If you are already familiar with Christos Tsiolkas’ fiction, you know that his characters often live in a world of hurt and are their own worst enemies. They also tend to have hair-trigger tempers and are prone to violent outbursts. Armed with this knowledge makes seeing the play easier, though it is still harsh at times. Merciless Gods has been adapted by Dan Giovannoni from the Tsiolkas book of the same title and merciless is an understatement.
Little Ones Theatre specialises in theatre that aims to (among other things) subvert traditional theatre practices, Merciless Gods achieves this objective with aplomb featuring eight separate stories. A mother shocks with a rejection of the domestic and scornfully details how fully her teenage son disgusts her; another mother mourns when she discovers her son in a gay porn video. A group of young adults play a dangerous game of retribution, then another mother once again rejects domestic goddess status and lives freely as an artist, the Madonna figure eagerly knocked aside in favour of a more earthy and flawed model. A junkie re-writes his history with a former lover to include a tender ending, making the memory of their union more palatable.
Performances were stunning and the group worked well with intense interaction that looked set to explode in several scenes. Highlights included Jennifer Vuletic whose androgynous appearance saw her playing both mother and father, in separate, unrelated scenes. Her portrayal of a German writer enduring an unsolicited visit from her daughter is spell-binding as she paces the floor with a belligerent grace.
Through his writing, Christos Tsiolkas makes damning observations of Australian culture, he rejects our parochial attitudes and exposes the many hypocrisies of the lucky country – a term that is not applicable to all of its inhabitants. Ultimately Tsiolkas stories usually veer into a very grim place and Merciless Gods is no exception. The humour in the work is sharp and scathing, but by the end the promised festivities of Little Ones were barely merry. Completely absorbing performances compensated for this lack of cheer though, this adaptation by Dan Giovannoni transfixed with distinct echoes of Tsiolkas’ graphic depictions of rage and grief.
Featuring: Paul Blenheim, Brigid Gallacher, Sapidah Kian, Peter Paltos, Charles Purcell and Jennifer Vuletic.
Creative/Tech Team: Dan Giovannoni (writer), Stephen Nicolazzo (director), Eugyeene Teh (set & costume design), Katie Sfetkidis (lighting design), Daniel Nixon (sound & compostion), Chris Mead (dramaturgy), Brianna-Lee Wade (stage manager), John Callopy (lighting assistant), Rebecca Poulter (production manager & tour co-ordinator) and Georgia McKay (publicity).
Merciless Gods is on until 25 November and is presented by Griffin Theatre in conjunction with Little Ones Theatre, for more information and tickets see: http://www.griffintheatre.com.au/
above image by Sarah Walker