Printable CopyRITES
Barossa Players
Barossa Arts and Convention Centre
Until 21 Jul 2018

Review by Anthony Vawser

With the Barossa Players’ latest production, director Jo Hough has brought to life a text by UK writer Maureen Duffy – first performed in the 1960s – that both intrigues and confronts, sometimes veering into outright discomfort, while making sure to entertain, first and foremost – all in the space of barely-over-an-hour.

“Rites” is a play that – as presented here – contains a number of solid, tangible, comprehensible themes and interests, along with enigmatic elements that may prove confusing and simply too strange for one’s personal taste. The Barossa Players deserve credit for taking the chance on a piece that presents as many challenges as this one does.

There are both men and women to be found on stage in “Rites”, but the genders are – at least, to begin with – kept completely separate and distinct. The play begins with a curious ‘chorus’ of orderly males installing toilet bowls into a series of indoor stalls. The scene is silent (except for appropriate sound effects), and makes for an intriguingly odd curtain-raiser.

As the various employees and regular visitors make their way to the unassuming-in-appearance ladies’ public bathroom, we get to know (and like) a number of them, noting the mixture of old and young generations, as well as the contrasts between personality types such as ‘introverted homebody’ and ‘outgoing gossiper’. There are insights and observations to be found here that make for a satisfying ‘comedy-with-substance’.

Events gradually take a turn toward the symbolic and the surreal, with a violent and blackly-comic climax that will not be revealed here but which is apparently derived from the broad outlines of Euripides’ ancient Greek tragedy “The Bacchae”. The rather incongruous presence of a lit furnace in this onstage environment turns out to have a purpose that is crucial to the conclusion of “Rites”…

Performances are generally strong and appealing across the ensemble. Set design/construction is let down somewhat by the stall doors being of a height clearly enabling performers to be able to look over them when the dialogue is telling us that the characters they play cannot. Lighting provides dramatic depths of darkness and shadow when required, and sound contributes useful punctuation to the overall atmosphere.

For a one-act play, there is a fair amount of food-for-thought to be found in “Rites”, despite the aspects that worked less well than others for this reviewer. It is a notably brave choice for the Barossa Players to tackle, and leaves one continuing to anticipate their next venture.