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Australian Graffiti

Ann Foo

Everything changes eventually. Especially people.
Australian Graffiti

Photo: Lisa Tomasetti.

In rural Australia, nothing really changes and that’s how we like it. Buildings stay the same. Businesses stay the same. And most importantly, people stay the same. But change is a fact of life, and no matter how desperately rural Australia clings on to the past, everything changes eventually. Especially people. 

Australian Graffiti by Disapol Savetsila is a the story about that change. When a group of Australian-Thai restaurateurs open up a Thai restaurant in a small rural town, they are not warmly received. It doesn’t help matters that their head chef has recently kicked the bucket (and even if the rest of them could cook to save a life) Thai cuisine is not exactly to the local’s palate. So when Thai graffiti mysteriously appears on the Baptist church, it’s no surprise when the pitchforks come out and the local townspeople use any means necessary to drive the restaurateurs away. 

Opening night marked a few firsts – this is the first feature-length play written by 23 year old Sydney theatre maker Disapol Savetsila. This is also the first time the STC have ever commissioned someone so young as part of their main season.

Australian Graffiti is the culmination of two years development, when a then 19-yr-old Savetsila was plucked out of a Playwriting Australia workshop. Its not hard to see why – the writing is fresh, edgy and heartfelt all at the same time. The humour is distinctly Australian – black as bushfire ash and dry as the desert. The subject matter is topical, relatable and very authentic. Its not the most polished piece of writing (some moments are a little haphazard and random) but the roughness is part of it’s charm. More importantly, the overall rhythm and pacing is engaging from start to finish – no small feat for a 90-minute play with no interval. 

Performances are similarly unpolished but heartfelt. Kenneth Moraleda and Monica Sayers as Boi and Nam are very enjoyable as comic relief. Srisacd Sacdpraseuth as the ghost of Loong switches between Jester and Truthsayer admirably. Gabrielle Chan as Baa is gracefully empathetic as the tough-as-nails mother who has sacrificed everything for her son. Mason Phoumirath as Ben and Airlie Dodds as Gabby are a little too keen and overplayed, but nevertheless both give very relatable and heartfelt performances.

This production’s weakest link is the visual. In a story that is self-described as ‘magic realism’ with the visual language fails to communicate that world and atmosphere, instead seaming to choose natural realism as the aesthetic. The choice makes sense – given the darker themes and social relevance of the story, natural realism is in many ways the obvious choice. But there is a disconnect between the visual language of the production and the writing style of the play. Perhaps magic realism is the problematic part of the writing – the transitions between absurdist comedy and dark gritty drama are awkward, and the violence never feels real with so much comedy in the mix… but loosing the magic aspect of the writing would be a huge sacrifice as so much of the appeal of the play comes from having fun with that magical absurdist element. 

All in all, Australian Graffiti marks a pretty triumphant debut for Savetsila and the STC. It’s not an original story and that’s part of it’s mainstream appeal – the struggle new migrants face in this country can be observed in every corner of the country, so it’s about time more people were writing about it.

Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5

Australian Graffiti
Director: Paige Rattray
Designer: David Fleischer
Lighting Designer: Sian James-Holland
Composer: Max Lyandvert
Sound Designer: Michael Toisuta
With Gabrielle Chan, Airlie Dodds, Peter Kowitz, Kenneth Moraleda, Mason Phoumirath, Srisacd Sacdpraseuth, Monica Sayers

Wharf 2 Theatre, Walsh Bay
7 July - 12 August 2017

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Ann is a guild award-winning Sydney based film editor and writer.