Tiger Country. A review of the Griffin Theatre Company’s new production

Last night, my wife and I went to the The Stables Theatre in Nimrod Street to see the Griffin Theatre Company’s production of Jonathon Gaven’s new play, “ Tiger Country”.
 
I must say from the very outset that this is a play were so much is done with the so little.  The Stables Theatre is a small studio space that gave me the feeling that it is the sort of establishment that many young actors get their first chances to tread the boards.  One gets the impression that the place runs on the smell of an oily rag and the Sydney Theatre Company with its recent profligate waste of talent (see “Riflemind”) could learn a few lessons from this little theatre.
 
Tiger country is set in the southern outskirts of Sydney on the way to the Southern Highlands and is obviously influenced by the story of Ivan Milat. The play is not really a story in the normal linear sense but a series of vignettes, and I couldn’t help but think during the play that it would make an excellent movie.  If Tiger country has any weaknesses, it is the use of vignettes as a device to progress the story.  All the vignettes contributed to the building of the story, but unfortunately some of them were very short and I think that with a bit more work-shopping, they could have been welded together a little better.
 
John Sheedy as the director draws out excellent performances from his hard-working cast.
 
It’s Christmas time then we get to peer into the extreme workings of the Unwin family of brothers and their unfortunate partners.  Without telling the exact story of what happens “Tiger Country” is basically about Australian larrikinism and its ugly bastard brother violence.  The play starts off with a very volatile argument between Eddie (played by Josef Ber) who has just been released from jail and his pregnant teenage wife, Kylie (played by Eve Morey), which turns out to be just a joke between lovers.  There are many humorous scenes that follow.  As the play progresses, the humor continues unabated, but the violence escalates.  This is not a play for the fainthearted, as the language can be quite coarse and some of the scenes of domestic violence very confronting.
 
The other characters in the play are the intellectually challenged Howl, his hard as nails de facto Rachel and his oleaginous older brother Chuckles.
 
Everyone in the cast turns in excellent performances that are thoroughly believable.  Not once did I feel that I was watching actors, acting.
 
Josef Ber as the ex-con Eddie left me in no doubt that his character was someone who solves their problems with their fists rather than diplomacy and uses physical intimidation to gain the respect of others.  Not the sort of person that I’d recommend that one goes drinking with on a Friday night if you want to stay out of jail or hospital.
 
Eve Morey who plays the soap opera watching airhead Kylie is completely convincing. Morey turned in an excellent bittersweet and gut wrenching performance of a child in a woman’s body, longing for the sort of love, that one only sees in soap operas but trapped in an abusive and violent relationship.
 
Matthew Moore, as the lovable dimwit Howl has some of the best comedic as well as poignant scenes.  We first see Howl come onto the stage, dressed in Ugg boots, Superman briefs and tattered olive singlet, carrying a hunting rifle whilst parodying the background Christmas music with blurting noises.  At first sight, he is hilarious, and his gormlessness charms for the rest of the play. Howl is the innocent amongst the monsters and his performance is a bit like watching a baby playing with razor blades.  I kept on feeling something bad was going to happen.
 
Nicole Winkler as the hard as a diamond Rachel is the childlike Howl’s long-suffering and well-worn de facto. Winkler is terrific, in her portrayal of a single mother who’s been around and seen some of the world from the bottom of the social ladder. Rachel is on one hand, nastily vitriolic and on the other, toughly intelligent.  Unfortunately for Rachel, she is a woman surrounded by men who won’t hesitate to use force to get what they want.
 
James Evans plays the aloof and slimy Chuckles with a smiling icy maliciousness.  At first, one gets the impression that Chuckles is the only normal man in the play, but it’s not long before we find out what a bent unit he really is. Evans skilfully turns up the volume on his character’s malevolence as the play progresses to a point to where he is genuinely scary in a deeply creepy way.
 
Jonathan Gavin with a skilful use of light and shade, has written a play with a disturbing theme that is full of humor and you will find yourself laughing, quite often, all the way through.
 
I highly recommend Tiger Country as very good value entertainment, and to top it all off the theatre is situated in an area with many very good restaurants so one can make a trip to a play a full night out.