Lab Kelpie SPENCER - Lyall Brooks Jamieson Caldwell, Fiona Harris and Jane Clifton - photo by Pier Carthew Sweet, but not saccharine; serious, but not dour; earnest, but not preachy – this Baby Bear of a play kicks you right in the feels for a maximum six points. Playwright, Katy Warner, has pulled off some nice sleight-of-hand here.

Underneath a hilarious family comedy (Think, The Castle, but if the Kerrigans’ enjoyed swearing as much as they loved Bonnie Doon) lies some darker material. In Ben’s and Scott’s respective stories, we get an exploration of toxic masculinity, while with Jules we learn more about abandonment issues. With parents, Marilyn and Ian, we get a glimpse at how parents can feed into these emotional ecosystems and how being present can sometimes be as hurtful as walking away.

Lyall Brooks pulled off some disappearing-into-a-role, type stuff here. He ditches the suit and smooth face from, A Prudent Man, and replaces it with scruff and an inordinate amount of knowledge about AFL. A Prudent Man was partly an exercise in physical control and discipline. Here, Ben is more loose, but Lyall does it with a precise sort of calamity. It gives the character of Ben a compelling presence on stage without ever seeming out of control or dangerous.

Jamieson Caldwell did lovely work as Scott. There’s a fine balance he has to strike – showing Scott’s increasingly worn side without letting things get too dark that the audience think this irreverent comedy is about to deal with suicide. What was great here (and really about everyone in the cast) is how, despite the hijinks from the rest of the family, Jamieson appears totally authentic.

Fiona Harris’ performance as Jules was surly and smart-Alec, pitched just right considering these are the three men she has to deal with. One of those men, her estranged father, Ian, was played well by Roger Oakley.

Jane Clifton played Marilyn with gusto. Her journey through the play is easily the most tumultuous, yet Jane always ensured her storytelling was coherent.  She’s certainly unlikeable in places, but her behaviour never got too murky or cruel.

Mash together The Castle and Waiting for Godot, turn off parental controls, and you would get a huge mess of a script. Katy Warner, however, has written a gem of a play, which the cast and Director, Sharon Davis, have made shine.

Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Performance: Friday 12 May 2017 – 7.00pm
Season continues to 28 May 2017
Bookings: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au

For more information, visit: www.labkelpie.com for details.

Image: Lyall Brooks Jamieson Caldwell, Fiona Harris and Jane Clifton feature in Spencer – photo by Pier Carthew

Review: David Collins