MF22-Pops-Bronte-Charlotte-and-Todd-LeviThe Australian premiere of queer British playwright Charlie Josephine’s intimate psychological torment Pops is an outstanding piece of theatre from start to finish.

Dancing through the chaos of family, addiction and pride, Pops is both tender and powerful in its portrayal of how divergent things can conspire to trap us in our status quo.

From the very outset the set, lighting (Spencer Herd) and sound (Evan Drill) work seamlessly together to create a home that is as commonplace and lived in as it is threatening. I cannot praise the work that has been done here enough.

It is not a simple set but at no point does it detract or distract from the performance. It only ever adds, creating atmosphere and embellishing the work done by the actors. To give a small stage such a palpable emotional charge is no small achievement.

Both Bronte Charlotte and Todd Levi give masterful performances, moving with ease through the sudden and disorienting modal shifts in the way the story is told. Levi’s Ugg-booted father is scary, matey, proud, loving and lost. I saw shades of people I know very well in his performance which gives you an idea of how complete this character is.

Aided by the technically brilliant work of the lighting and sound operation, Levi inhabits his character’s self-distractions and personal injuries as naturally as he does his on-stage home. It is difficult to craft a character that is this real and familiar while also proving so disquieting and pitiable, but Levi manages it flawlessly.

Charlotte’s character is the vehicle for the audience’s experience of the piece. The masterly way she works with the alternating frustration, hope and despair makes this surely one of the best performances we will see this Fringe.

Her remarkable pathos invests us in the wellbeing of her character. We want to see her succeed, to triumph over her personal demons. At the same time, the text creates in moments an insurmountable distance between us and her, a tool she uses expertly to heighten the show’s commentary on the price of addiction.

This production deals with sensitive topics and some of the material could be difficult for some audience members, but it does so with a respect and empathy that we need in our discourse around addiction, mental health and family relationships that fall short of the ideal.

Director Dirk Hoult has orchestrated something really special here that is not to be missed.

Meat Market – Stables, 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne
Season continues to 15 October 2022
Information and Bookings: www.melbournefringe.com.au

Image: Bronte Charlotte and Todd Levi in Pops (supplied)

Review: Daniel Townsend