Slingsby & State Theatre Company South Australia
Adelaide Showgrounds
Until 14 Mar 2021

Review by Lance Jones

It must be said from the very outset that this was one of the best pieces of theatre this reviewer has ever seen. As such, it is very hard to describe it without overdoing the superlatives. For the sake of this review of a World Premiere collaboration between Slingsby and the State Theatre Company in association with Adelaide Festival, let’s try.

One enters the theatre and is seated at a table in what seems to be a traditional Irish Pub, complete with folk band in the corner, a pub trivia quiz and even a “meat tray” for the winner. Yet, through the façade of normal, everyday cacophony, a solitary “creepy dude” infiltrates the crowd and starts looking disturbingly menacing. Enter our main protagonist “Martin”, played by the enormously gifted Bryan Burroughs. From this moment on, the almost unbelievable true story unfolds throughout the entire theatre, bringing the audience in as part of the backdrop.

The initial question posed by the audience as they are seated at round tables was where they needed to look. It soon became apparent that they needed to look everywhere. The impressive set design by Wendy Todd used every part of the room to spread the narrative, with the characters mingling amongst the audience and the ever-changing table lights, shadow puppets and carefully constructed montages that opened up as needed. Bryan communes with the shadow puppets as if they are real, giving them personalities we can relate to. The effect was mesmerising.

One can’t call this a “single hander” as Bryan is so ably supported by the band, in particular, accordion player and singer Victoria Falconer, who also plays the “Saw” occasionally, bringing that eerie, soulful sound to the fore. Victoria acts as both foil and adviser to the young man, both through her music and her well-directed questions. Quincy Grant and Emma Luker round out the ensemble with their roguishly wonderful musical lilts, beautifully written by Lisa O’Neill.

Yet, for the most part, it’s just Bryan, channelling Martin McKenna’s astonishing story of emotional abuse, domestic violence, and finally, triumphant discovery of a group where he gains respect, love and understanding. Bryan is a multi-award-winning actor that has come from the other side of the world to do this show, where amongst other things, he teaches in Ireland’s National Academy of Dramatic Art. It shows. Bryan’s performance was flawless.

This piece of theatre is based on the book of the same name. Director Andy Packer seamlessly moves Amy Conroy’s sensitive stage adaptation of the book along through the numerous different phases of Martin’s growth, and all the emotions that go with such a monumental feat. In the end, he turns this tragic story into “happy ever after”. It is satisfying to note that the author is now happy and living with his dogs amongst the wonderful counter-culture of the Northern Rivers in New South Wales; a very happy ending in itself.

To quote Martin, “Life is confusing, sketchy, but wonderful”, which is also an apt description of this astonishing piece of theatre. This will be the Festival success story of the season and is not to be missed. You may even win a meat tray!