Poor Boy is an assured, striking work that marries theatre, drama and song, specifically around the music of a particular artist – in this case Tim Finn.
Poor Boy is an assured, striking work that marries theatre, drama and song, specifically around the music of a particular artist – in this case Tim Finn. Playwright Matt Cameron has indicated in interviews that he is a great fan of Finn and that the song Dirty Creature had a singular effect on him when he was a young child. One that clearly resonated with him so much so that he has now written a play around Finn’s music. Finn and Cameron have worked collaboratively to create Poor Boy - a play with songs. The narrative is in fact set amongst a sea of Finn’s familiar works including Poor Boy, Ghost Girl and the spectacular In a Minor Key (to name only some of the songs that make up the musical aspect of Poor Boy.) Poor Boy is the story of a young boy called Jem, who on his seventh birthday wakes up and thinks he is the reincarnation of a dead man called Danny, who died in terrible circumstances years ago. Danny needs to find his family and confront unresolved conflict with his mother, widowed wife and younger brother. Jem’s family of course want nothing to do it – they want seven year old Jem back, and the tortured ghost that is Danny gone from their lives. The involvement of Guy Pearce has been documented by the media already, and be assured he is a fabulously able actor, and strong singer too, it seems. His scenes and duets with Abi Tucker work well to form the angst and tragedy of lost love – the core theme which haunts the narrative. More interestingly however, I found the interaction between Linda Cropper and Sarah Pierse the two mothers torn between a son one knew and a son the other lost, the more compelling story. Both Cropper and Pierse play the two desperate women with authority. Greg Stone too as the bewildered, almost embittered father could have been given more of a presence, as his work is so consistently good. Sara Gleeson who plays the teenage daughter, and Matt Dyktynski the inconstant younger brother, make up the remaining cast of seriously tuned actors, together with Hunter Stanford the young seven year old who plays the young Jem to Guy Pearce’s Danny. Yes they can all sing very well, and they need to, because whenever the story starts to develop, they break into song. In some cases this works brilliantly whilst in others it becomes a distraction from what could be (if allowed to develop) a dramatic surrealist tale. At times I admit I felt like I was revisiting that early great MTV era of video-music, where bands like Bon Jovi and Guns n Roses rose to fame fusing lyric and film to create vivid “musi-stories” of tragedy and betrayal. It’s coincidental that I was watching the outrageously successful Mamma Mia the night before attending the premier of Poor Boy. A girlfriend and I laughed at how this cheesiest of films could make us laugh and cry over the silliest, most absurd romantic story so tenuously linked to the famous ABBA folio of work. And yet, there was a connection, a touch, a something - and somewhere in between being horrified and enchanted when these A-grade actors broke into B-grade song, I felt I understood why something like Mamma Mia had been given the breath of life. Not that a work like Poor Boy should lend itself to a direct comparison of music theatre fusions like Mamma Mia , however the challenge of melding music and theatre is there, and the goal of “seeing” the music and “hearing” the stage or the scene is an intriguing one. Perhaps one that is too personal to ever completely conquer - my Beethoven could be someone else’s Spinal Tap. Poor Boy is however the inaugural play to open the new MTC space – the impressive Sumner Theatre, and so perhaps it is more than fitting that something so bold and so outside of the regular staple of theatrical works should be used to launch this exciting new theatrical venue. Watching theatre here will be a great joy for all future audience members and a wonderful location for all theatre practitioners working for or collaborating with the MTC. Poor Boy directed with style and confidence by Simon Philips, in Ian Aitken's thoughtful set - where one room works as both families' lounge, (personality given to it by the areas used by different characters), is what it is – a play with songs. And yes I believe the audience did feel a connection here, but perhaps more to the great actors, the skill, the space and the MTC than the tale. After all it is wonderful to be able to see original Australian works in such a great new space. Melbourne Theatre Company Sumner Theatre 21 January - 8 March 2 hours 30 minutes including interval Book tickets here.

Rita Dimasi

Friday 30 January, 2009

About the author

Rita Dimasi is an Arts Hub reviewer.