A true labour of love, the creators, cast and crew have made theatrical magic with Gaybies, a joy-filled insight into life and love.
Created by Dean Bryant, director, writer and general theatrical wunderkind, Gaybies is the result of a special commission for the 25th Midsumma festival. From multiple interviews with the children of various combinations of gay and lesbian parents, Bryant has distilled a message of hope and joy, without actually putting together a ‘message’ style show.
Eschewing the turgid drama, drugs, sex and nudity that characterise many a gay-themed play, Bryant has simply allowed the experience, humanity and awareness of the interviewees to shine through in an unadulterated form. The cast of 14 play 30 or so people, bringing to life the exact responses elicited through the research. Variety and interest are cleverly maintained by arranging the vignettes into sections based on themes, such as gender roles, telling others, sibling pairs, teenagers, very young children and so forth.
Seeping gently through the collected stories is the message that gay and lesbian parents are first and foremost parents, with sexuality running a clear second. The unique aspect of Gaybies is that it is not presenting a concept that is a dream, vision or hope; it is portraying a reality that has long existed. We may have to fight for gay marriage, but being a gay parent is open to everyone.
The festive children’s birthday party setting, designed by Owen Phillips, provides the ‘present’ of a book for each performer, which they can consult as they play their roles. Director Daniel Clarke further enhances the focus and dynamism of the piece by periodically including the music, games and hijinks of a party. The colourfully dressed partygoers are on stage throughout, having tactile fun making posters and paper chains. There is a totally engaging ebb and flow to the energy of the performance, which, in far lesser hands, could have become monotonous quite quickly. Clarke’s achievement with the direction is all the more impressive given that the full cast gathered for the first time only a few days before this official opening night. Line cues, in particular, are very tight.
Bryant’s name and reputation have clearly been a factor in gathering an exceptional cast, all setting aside their usual payments to be involved in this passion project. One aspect of the joy of the evening is seeing well-known stars without all the customary lavish costumes, make up and wigs. Clarke has elicited natural, open performances from the cast, allowing them to find the innate humour and pathos in the material and let it speak for itself. With the large number of people portrayed, it is occasionally a challenge to keep up with the various threads, but the overall spirit shines through most effectively.
Highlights are very difficult to pick from the evenly matched, experienced cast.
Virginia Gay achieves some delightful humour in her delivery. The delicious camp of Trevor Ashley is contrasted very nicely by the raw masculine presence of Ben Mingay. Christie Whelan-Browne and Alex Rathgeber deliver very polished, down to earth performances. Magda Szubanski maintains complete focus and concentration to present a range of humorous and heartfelt moments. Young actress Emily Milledge exposes a raw vulnerability that is particularly moving.
Kate Kendall displays remarkable body language as a young girl, immersing herself in the role to the point of giving her ‘sister’ a resounding slap on the arm (to the amusement of all). Georgia Scott maintains a knowing twinkle in her eye and a wry edge to her humorous delivery. Gareth Keegan and Brent Hill each give well prepared, gently understated performances. Todd McKenney, himself a gaybie parent, exudes a joy at being part of the whole process.
Young performer Robert Tripolino makes a beautiful contribution to the atmosphere with the gentle playing of his own music on guitar at times throughout the show. The cast also unites very effectively for a couple of MT Warning songs, led ably by the ethereal Christina O’Neill.
An utter delight, Gaybies is the type of special event that justifies Melbourne festival-saturated calendar. The bountiful achievements of all involved deserve to be celebrated. Only three performances remain so act quickly.
Gaybies plays at the Sumner Theatre until Saturday 19 January 2013.
Photos: Pia Johnson