Perfect comic timing meets brutally upfront delivery: these guys are a tight unit.
I'm a big fan of Back to Back theatre company. There's many reasons to like them - their brutal honesty, their deadpan comedy, their unique insights into the hypocrisy of mainstream society. But their trump card has always been authenticity, and for that you forgive all the little flaws and quibbles, because despite their imperfections, they are the real-deal rock stars of theatre.
So it's interesting to say the least when they throw their own authenticity into question by tackling subject matter outside of their personal experience. In previous works, they have criticised the practice of casting mainstream actors in roles of characters with intellectual disabilities, stating that they find it 'offensive'. How very (typically) subversive, then, of Back to Back to turn the tables and cast themselves in the role of culturally insensitive, arrogant artists devising a play about a Hindu god traveling to Nazi Germany, despite knowing nothing about Hinduism or Judaism.
The genius of this move is not apparent upfront. It takes a bit of unpacking for the pieces to come together. It works a bit like a David Lynch film - my initial impression was to ask myself what the #%$ I just saw, but in the days following, the puzzle comes together, subconsciously. This is not Back to Back's most cohesive play - perhaps by design. It's all too long, too tedious. It attempts to pay lip service to too many things and doesn't quite do justice to any of them. Too heavy handed with some rather bizarre music choices, too saccharine with contrived love at the end. Maybe it needs to be, to build up to an impressive release of anger. I'm torn, by my intellectual respect for what the play is attempting, and my emotional disengagement as an audience. It's also a bit esoteric for my liking – one’s appreciation of the play relies somewhat on having a background knowledge of the production company.
Performance wise, though, they are always a pleasure to watch. Perfect comic timing meets brutally upfront delivery: these guys are a tight unit. Special mention, as always, goes to the bad boy of Back to Back, Scott Price. Perhaps the reason why he's such an endearing rebel is that much of his personality embodies what makes the group special - they are a band of rebels, underdogs winning in a world where they are out numbered and out classed.
Also nods to Luke Ryan, who is not only a brilliant performer in his own right, but also a hell of a good sport. As the only actor in the troupe without a disability, he is, by default, perpetually cast as sole representative of patronising, insensitive mainstream society. As if this legacy isn't bad enough, in this production he now becomes a reinvention of Hitler. Can it get any worse for Ryan? Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Pushing boundaries is what these guys excel at, and it’s great to see them maintain that edge. On this one occasion, however, execution falls a tiny bit short of a mammoth topic.
Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5
Ganesh Versus the Third Reich
Director: Bruce Gladwin
Devisors: Mark Deans, Marcia Ferguson, Bruce Gladwin, Nicki Holland, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Kate Sulan, Brian Tilley & David Woods
Lighting Design: Andrew Livingston, bluebottle
Design Construction: Mark Cuthbertson
Design & Animation: Rhian Hinkley
Composer Johann Johannsson
Costume Design: Shio Otani
Carriageworks, Wilson Street, Eveleigh
12 - 15 March
First published on
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