Gashes and Gushes: Review of UTS Backstage’s QUACK
Ian Wilding’s Quack (2010), first saw the light of stage at the Griffin Theatre some three years ago. The play is now enjoying new life under the direction of Camilla Turnbull and the UTS Backstage theatre group. Set in sleepy 1880s Australian mining town (with fiddle and wobble board to create atmosphere). Quack begins as a rivalry between the old established town physician Dr Littlewood and the new man, Dr Waterman. Littlewood has an unusual talent: by removing the ‘vital organs’ of animals and attaching them to the township’s old men he is able to restore their potency. Only problem is there is an epidemic taking root and Waterman believes it’s caused by Littlewood’s questionable methods. To this end he recommends his miracle water cure, but this has little effect and the audience soon comes to diagnose this mystery disease as a zombie apocalypse.
Although set in outback, Victorian times Quack was written with an eye to the current political climate. It’s maybe a sad testament that three years on it’s still very relevant (that pesky emissions trading deal still isn’t settled). Waterman and Littlewood both have different approaches to solving problems, but both want to create a better town for the future. Unfortunately, with the crisis upon them they do little more than argue between themselves behind closed doors while the town crumbles around them. Waterman’s miracle cure literally turns to piss, as so many political promises tend to do. As would be expected Wilding’s script has a satirical edge to it, which elevates it from the standard zombie story, and there are a score of witty one-liners that add to the comedy. However, the play may flounder a bit towards the end; thematically a lot of issues are raised without a conclusion ever really being reached, but between the blood, gore and graphic descriptions of cannibalism there is still a lot of fun to be had.
Dr Littlewood is the resident quack and unlikely hero to our story. He is rather strange, unsettling even, especially considering his penchant for transplanting of animal glands (testicles) to give his patients a sexual edge. The role is played by Jake Nielsen, a hulking figure with a harshly manic turn of phrase. It works though, and one settles nicely into the rhythms set out by Nielsen. Towards its close, we find that Littlewood is himself contaminated, and here Nielsen delivers a subtle yet touching demise. His final act is to fling himself to the ‘dogs’ – but to no avail.
As both Gunner (the hard-nosed mining baron) and Nancy, Madeline Clouston exudes a comic ferocity that is often unmatched. She does a solid job of bringing the hysteria (and with it, the tension) to the stage and provides a lot of fun moments. The role is written to be played as a shrieking maiden of sorts, and Clouston certainly delivers, even if it can become a touch harsh to listen to. However, if anyone can pull it off, it’s this actress.
Paul Musumeci plays the almost cameo role of Rodney, the young ‘Canary in the mine’. His plot is fairly simple: he will become the ‘ball-giver’ to the tycoon Gunner. He first enters with a savage bite but this is soon forgotten in favour of his fairly healthy testicles. We hear of his rather terrible demise shortly after. Musumeci is always an interesting actor to watch, and continues to be so in this role. He plays the brainless youngster with gusto, whilst being both sweet and affecting as this most gullible of village idiots.
At times the cast suffered from hyperactive delivery, which meant that some of the Wildean wit and word play was lost. Further, there may be some benefit to bringing down the temperature at times, whilst remaining mindful of the script’s requirements.
The whole cast did a good job of managing all the blood and other bodily fluids in this production, and anyone with a bent towards the squeamish will get some enjoyment out of this show. Special mention to the Groaning Mules for providing transitional and atmospheric music, they were a nice touch. Unfortunately their run is almost finished, with closing night set for this Saturday. For more details see:
Photos taken by Pollyanna Nowicki
Cover design by Carlos Acarzon