Life, Love and a Bookshop: Review of Depot Theatre’s Through a Beaded Lash
As the year draws to a close, The Depot Theatre brings us a new work by Robert Allan, ‘Through a Beaded Lash’. It bills itself as a new Australian play that bears witness to a time of love, loss and community. As ever with these types of works, the challenge lies within its ability to bring something fresh and relevant to the stage.
Through a Beaded Lash presents the story of two old friends (Adam and Zoe) who, after 25 years of partnership, are finally seeing their bookshop in Oxford St coming to a close. As they pack their wares, they stumble upon pieces of nostalgia, which prompts the exploration of their long gone youth, and the challenges Adam faced (and faces) as a gay man in the 1980s. For those old enough to remember, the 1980s saw the rise of the AIDS epidemic, with strong community and media backlash. Such a time defined and shaped the lives of many homosexual men and women, with many friends and loved ones succumbing to an AIDS related illness.
The piece relies strongly on time shifts between Adam as a young man in the gay community and the present, where he and Zoe reminisce and resist the inevitable fork in the road. Whilst this is certainly a worthy theatrical device, the back and forth tends to distract the plot which the piece perhaps takes too long to establish anyway. What this reveals is a story that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Is it a story about being stuck in the past, or rather being unable to move forward, or is it a piece that wishes to explore the ravaging of the AIDS epidemic. Without such clarification, the play almost gives up on its characters’ journeys, though this is partially resolved in the final half hour (though perhaps too little too late).
Nevertheless, the performances were largely commendable across the board. As Adam, Leo Domigan gave an effortlessly enjoyable yet measured portrayal, which tended to drive the piece throughout. Cherilyn Price played Zoe, his best friend and self confessed ‘fag hag’. Price took a while to find her footing, though her performance was largely pleasing. As Young Adam, Oliver Rynn was incredibly nuanced and is arguably the most watchable actor of the evening. Emily McGowan possessed a wonderful spark as the Young Zoe, providing balance to every scene she entered. Ryan Henry was highly comical as Brent, the flamboyant, somewhat precious Drag Queen, though at times, the character appeared to be from a different play (a fault of the writing). Finally, Roger Smith played the ageing caretaker Phil with great aplomb. His was a highly successful creation, on both the part of the writer and performer, as it played with, and challenged, stereotypical views of homosexuality.
Ultimately, director Julie Baz has produced a tight show, with some good performances, working especially well within the small walls of the Depot Theatre in Marrickville. Whilst the script may require further refinement, it is a solid effort from all involved.
Through a Beaded Lash is playing at the Depot Theatre until 12 December. For more information see: http://www.thedepottheatre.com/through-a-beaded-lash