Rather than a journey of self-discovery, Tommy Murphy's Strangers In Between is more a pathway to community.
Image: Strangers in Between, photo by Sarah Walker.
After being gay-bashed by his brother, wide-eyed, awkward 16-year-old Shane (Wil King) flees from Goulburn to Sydney and lands bang in the thick of Kings Cross. Masking his fear and confusion with babbling idiocy, he meets a sarcastic 50-year-old queer Peter (Simon Burke), and reluctant romantic interest Will (Guy Simon), both of whom ease Shane into city life with respective parental guidance and steamy sexual education. Strangers In Between is not so much the journey of Shane discovering who he is, rather it is the journey to his understanding that he is not alone.
Shane’s identity, like any teen, is in a constant state of flux. With Will, he plays the love-sick puppy to Will’s aloof stud. With Peter, Shane reprises the role of the stud. When Shane’s brother Ben (also played by Guy Simon) returns to seek forgiveness, Shane becomes the aggressor, threatening the grovelling Ben with a baseball bat. Scene change, and suddenly it is Shane doing the grovelling, begging his ex-lover to take him back. The fluidity of these characters can be applied to humanity as a whole – we are multifaceted, and the facets we show at any given time are reflections of the people we surround ourselves with. We affect them, we become them, we become the opposite of them. This push and pull is the crux of community.
Shane learns to navigate his sexuality as a tool for survival as well as for gratification, which is not unlike the journey of many young women discovering their sexuality. It is both frightening and empowering. Add to the confusion Shane’s self-loathing and latent homophobia. Orientation aside, he is still a product of a small-town mentality, and the prejudices he has been raised with persist, even if the enemy he faces is himself. In Shane and his brother, we see the cycle of hate make perpetrators of it’s victims. The performance is an erratic tightrope to walk but King handles it remarkably well. Simon Bourke’s comic intonation and timing is impeccable, delivering laughs above and beyond the written jokes. Guy Simon’s double act is seductively sultry as Will, and he masterfully injects much needed depth and pathos into Ben, a character who could so easily have been overplayed and caricatured.
Tommy Murphy’s hilarious caustic writing style does well to balance out what is a pretty sickly sweet story. Much of the comedy is derived from a classic fish-out-of-water scenario, where the settings is just as integral to the story as the characters. This is The Cross – unashamedly seedy, charmingly decayed and totally seductive.The whole-hearted embracing of The Cross is metaphorical for how we must learn to accept ourselves – unconditionally. Admittedly, Murphy’s Kings Cross no longer exists. It’s been sanitised, to the extent that even Murphy admits that the play has become a relic of a bygone era. To those of us who remember the Cross of yore, Strangers In Between has tremendous nostalgic value. But to modern youth, does this story resonate? As the barriers between sexualities continue to crumble, LGBTIQ communities are less relegated to the dodgy fringe, and this is a good thing. Perhaps the value of Strangers In Between is historical, in appreciating the journey of those early refugees who, driven from their towns, built a place for themselves in the cites.
Murphy’s writing style is so engaging that you might not even notice the structural plot holes. Ultimately, Shane is too easily forgiven by the others for his mistakes. It’s all a little too unbelievable that Will should return to play happy families in the end. The perspective of writing is very singularly focused on the self-centred fantasies of it’s young protagonist (and, by proxy, it’s young author) – he gets his platonic friend and his love interest without really having to do much to earn it. Still, it’s hard to hold a grudge when the story is so full of sweet pathos. We can attribute Shane's redemption to that of the young and the stupid, because we’ve all been there. And we can root for the Utopian ending, because deep down that’s where we all want to go.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
STRANGERS IN BETWEEN
By Tommy Murphy
Presented by Cameron Lukey, Don’t Be Down Productions and Seymour Centre
Director: Daniel Lammin
Producer: Cameron Lukey
Co-Producer: Andy Johnston
Featuring Simon Burke and Guy Simon
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