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Sun-Herald

Picture of a life less radical

Author: COLIN ROSE
Date: 02/04/2006
Words: 543
Source: SHD
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: S Insert
Page: 26
SOME EXPLICIT POLAROIDS

Darlinghurst Theatre, Potts Point. Until April 22. Tickets $28/$22.

Bookings 8356 9987.

Critic's rating: 9/10

TWO hundred years from now historians might pore over home videos or episodes of Celebrity Big Brother in an attempt to understand our millennial mindset - if the technology on which to view them still exists. Or they could more profitably read (if anybody is still reading 200 years from now) the plays of Mark Ravenhill, author of Shopping And F--king, Handbag and Some Explicit Polaroids.

As the title suggests, Some Explicit Polaroids is a snapshot: this is urban life on the cusp of the 21st century. And explicit in the sense that Ravenhill has a remarkable ability to get straight to the unvarnished reality of what that life is, as we grope our way forward, rootless, disoriented, some of us rethinking what the word family might mean if it's not the cliche of a husband, wife and two kids, and all the while attempting to numb the pain with sex and drugs.

Without being in the least bit dull or preachy, Some Explicit Polaroids dramatises a question that dogs anyone who hopes to make a difference: do you try to change the system from the inside, or fight against it from the margins? Change it incrementally, or attempt to smash it altogether?

Ravenhill is specifically writing about the shift in British politics between 1984 and 1999, the loss of radicalism, the turning inwards, in wider society, to selfish pleasure-seeking. Prime ministers Thatcher and Blair have pretty much erased left-wing politics over there. Director John Sheedy relocates the story to Australia - a mistake, I think, but the only one in a superbly well-acted and designed production that obliterates the distinction between fringe and mainstream theatre.

Released from jail after a 15-year stretch for viciously bashing a businessman, Nick (Blair Venn) finds much has changed. Not the least of it is that his former lover and partner in the class war (Genevieve Hegney) is now a glossy local councillor chasing a seat in parliament. Nick takes up with Nadia (Rebecca Smee), a stripper who spouts New Age bullshit and who is regularly beaten up by her other boyfriend.

Tim (Christian Barrett-Hill), Nadia's best friend, is gay and HIV-positive (don't groan, this isn't a maudlin AIDS play). He bought his Russian boyfriend Victor (Gibson Nolte) via the internet like a mail-order bride. Meanwhile, Nick's victim (John Turnbull) is sinisterly lurking in the background, revenge on his mind.

Ravenhill whips these characters together in the blender.

In the play's most striking scene, Victor and Nadia have sex beside Tim's hospital bed in an attempt to persuade him to take his medicine. Tim would rather die than admit that the party is over, or admit that he sees Victor as anything more than a toy.

The play is full of these weighty juxtapositions: tender/brutal, angry/rational, life/death. Ravenhill may be suggesting that modern life is rubbish, but he's not an absolute pessimist. Somehow, astonishingly, love persists.

 
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