David Atfield’s 2014 play Scandalous Boy dealt with political and sexual intrigue in ancient Rome. It starred Ethan Gibson as a young man who used his physical beauty to advance his ambitions. Nudity was an integral feature of the play, which was highly praised by critics and audiences alike, but, surprisingly, not seen outside Canberra.
Four years on, Exclusion, again written and directed by Atfield, also deals with political and sexual intrigue, but this time in the political arena of contemporary Canberra, and again nudity is an integral feature.
Ethan Gibson, having graduated from NIDA in the interim, again stars, this time as Craig Morrow, a handsome young staffer in love with his male employer, Jasper Ferrier, (Craig Alexander). Ferrier is a successful, though amoral politician with Prime Ministerial ambitions.
Ferrier’s wife, Jacinta (Fiona Victoria Hopkins), aware of her husband’s attraction for Morrow, devises a scheme, involving Morrow, to destroy Ferrier’s rival for the Prime Ministership, the upright and respected, Michael Connor (Michael Sparks).
Through this intriguing premise Atfield has devised an absorbing play which explores the evolving prism of the post marriage equality political world. A world in which lives can be shattered and lifetime careers annihilated in the flick of a computer key, with interesting characters forced to address complications in their lives which previously would have gone unspoken, or simply ignored.
Atfield has assembled a cracker of a cast with Gibson outstanding as the charismatic young staffer, Morrow, struggling with issues of integrity and honesty. As Ferrier, the venal politician, willing to jettison everything in pursuit of the prize, Craig Alexander gives an arresting performance, perfectly matched by Fiona Victoria Hopkins’ take-no-prisoners lioness wife, Jacinta.
Michael Sparks and Tracy Bourne are beautifully paired as their rivals, Michael and Caroline Connor, who both have their lives, if not their faith, shattered by the events which engulf them.
Exclusion is presented on a deceptively spare setting devised by Imogen Keen and beautifully lit by Hartley T.A.Kemp. Two double beds and some desks hint at the modern day political world in which mobile politicians spend almost as much of their lives in hotel rooms as their offices, with a chattering television visible through sheer curtaining, a reminder of the endless scrutiny of public lives.
Atkins’ direction is as astute as his writing, maintaining the tension and curiosity through the various twists and turns of his intelligent, entertaining script. A pity though that a more theatrical solution could not have been found for the scene changes to avoid the necessity for cast and crew to dissipate the atmosphere by having to make necessary between-scene adjustments in the half-light.
Would this play have worked without the titillation of the nudity, you ask? Of course it would, but as presented here, with no-nonsense frankness; it becomes integral to the authenticity and integrity of the characters, the situations and the story telling.
A topical, entertaining and accessible play, Exclusion embraces the world of modern politics to question the changing world we live in, and how we live our lives. It’s an important and thoughtful play which deserves to be seen well beyond the so-called “Canberra bubble”.
The Street Theatre, Childers Street, Canberra City West
Performance: Thursday 15 November 2018 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 17 November 2018
Information and Bookings: www.thestreet.org.au
Image: Ethan Gibson and Craig Alexander star in Exclusion – photo by Shelly Higgs
Review: Bill Stephens OAM