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The Challenge Of Families Plays Out With Humour, Honesty And Heart in the World Premiere of BITCH

BWW REVIEW: The Challenge Of Families Plays Out With Humour, Honesty And Heart in the World Premiere of BITCH

Friday 2nd June 2017, 8pm, The Depot Theatre

Wayne Tunks’ (Writer, Co-Director, Actor) latest work, BITCH shines a spotlight on an average Australian family to remind us that we are all facing struggles but it’s how we come together that makes the difference. Utilising humour to handle the weighty issues that affect contemporary life, this work also has a particular currency and relevance as equality and acceptance remains in the national media spotlight.

BITCH is centred on the Post family, an average modern-day Australian family living somewhere in suburbia. Middle aged, single, Jimmy (Wayne Tunks) has opened his home to his mother Julie (Felicity Burke), his sister Robyn (Emma Louise) and her twin children Clint (Nick Sinclair) and Emma (Clair Johnston). Whilst Jimmy is mild mannered, caring and quiet, the matriarch of the family is a bitter and twisted alcoholic bigot who either sits in front of the television, hurling abuse at the family while drinking or tries to pick up men at the local pub. Robyn is a single mother trying to raise her two teenagers whilst slogging through an unrewarding retail job where she works for the snotty, demoralising manager Fiona (Amy Victoria Brooks). Year 11 students Emma and Clint are facing the challenges of growing up. Emma is being pressured into sex by her jock ‘boyfriend’ Matt (Anton Smilek) who seems to have learnt all he knows about ‘romance’ from porn films while Clint is openly gay, in a relationship with the part Asian, Reid (Jasper Lee-Lindsay) who’s parent aren’t as understanding as Robyn and Uncle Jimmy.

The corner stage has been divided into three distinct spaces to represent the Post family living room, the children’s bedrooms (with bedspread flipped and poster changed), and the retail store where Robyn and Fiona work with the remaining space used for other implied locations. The transitions between scenes, covered by Lydia Kelly‘s sound design, does however slow the work down, compromising the immediacy of responses and therefore the degree of impact.

BWW REVIEW: The Challenge Of Families Plays Out With Humour, Honesty And Heart in the World Premiere of BITCH
Felicity Burke as Nanna Julie, Emma Louise as Robyn, Wayne Tunks as Uncle Jimmy and Nick Sinclair as Clint (Photo: Robert Miniter)

Co-Directors Tunks and Jessica Fallico have ensured that the cast present an honest and realistic expression of the family and work situations that unfold. For the most part they convey a good understanding of their characters and infusing an individuality to the roles and subtly expressing that secrets are being withheld, drawing the audience in to want to have questions answered.

BWW REVIEW: The Challenge Of Families Plays Out With Humour, Honesty And Heart in the World Premiere of BITCH
Emma Louise as Robyn and Wayne Tunks as Uncle Jimmy (Photo: Robert Miniter)

Wayne Tunks presents an endearing performance, portraying Jimmy as a gentle giant when it comes to his family, withholding emotions to keep the peace but having the capacity to protect himself and his family when provoked. He gives Jimmy a quiet mystery, alluding to a hurt or trauma that sees him put up with his ungrateful mother and spend nights at home with his sister rather than go out. As his sister Robyn, Emma Louise presents a somewhat world weary woman trying to raise her children whilst dealing with a the unreasonable micromanager at work. There is a recognisable frankness and fatigue as she deals with life.

BWW REVIEW: The Challenge Of Families Plays Out With Humour, Honesty And Heart in the World Premiere of BITCH
Nick Sinclair as Clint and Jasper Lee-Lindsay as Reid (Photo: Robert Miniter)

Nick Sinclair and Claire Johnston present captivating performances as the 17 year old siblings, creating a blend of individuality and sterotype to ensure that it is clear that Emma worries about her reputation and peer pressure whilst Clint is less concerned about what other’s think as he is already an outsider as smart gay student in a relationship with a smart gay Asian student. Johnston ensures that the audience see that Emma is a strong character, confronting ex ‘boyfriend’ Matt, and demonstrating that she matures from the experience. Sinclair gives Clint a vulnerability, conveying the young man’s challenge with his identity and his fear of what his lover and his family will think of his secret.

BWW REVIEW: The Challenge Of Families Plays Out With Humour, Honesty And Heart in the World Premiere of BITCH
Amy Victoria Brooks as Fiona (Photo: Robert Miniter)

As Robyn’s boss Fiona, Amy Victoria Brooks sweet smiling assassin captures the spiteful authority of someone who trying to direct their anger and frustration with life on someone else, in this case Robyn. Brooks’ transitions between Fiona’s interactions with Robyn and when she meets Jimmy are hilarious in the lack of subtlety, ensuring that it is blatantly clear that Fiona is both socially awkward and desperate.

BWW REVIEW: The Challenge Of Families Plays Out With Humour, Honesty And Heart in the World Premiere of BITCH
Anton Smilek as Matt and Claire Johnston as Emma (Photo: Robert Miniter)

Jasper Lee-Linsdsay and Anton Smilek as Clint’s lover Reid and Emma’s ex Matt respectively are given less to work with by way of time to develop their characters leading to more stereotyped performances to serve the purpose of framing the core family’s actions and reactions. Lee-Lindsay does however get some great comic lines, presented with a droll dryness that had the audience initially stunned whilst they had a ‘did he really just say that’ moment. Smilek captures the bigoted bulling meathead student with a recognisable reality and handles the fight scenes with a confronting realism.

BWW REVIEW: The Challenge Of Families Plays Out With Humour, Honesty And Heart in the World Premiere of BITCH
Felicity Burke as Mother/Nanna Julie (Photo: Robert Miniter)

The standout comic performance however comes from mother/Nanna Julie, portrayed with perfect comic timing and delivery by Felicity Burke. In a portrayal that potentially had many in the audience thinking of the bitter old homophobic racist gracing the news of late, Burke ensures that Julie’s bigotry is recognisable and is initially dismissed as archaic and unchangeable but hiding secrets of a more disturbing past that went beyond verbal slurs.

Whilst the work could be tightened and could benefit from a dramaturg or more distance between writer and director to ensure the work’s full comic potential was achieved, BITCH is an entertaining and also confronting exploration of contemporary issues through the use of humour.

BITCH

The Depot Theatre

31 May – 17 June 2017

Photos: Robert Miniter



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