Strangers in Between
Reviewed – 12th January 2018
“a tender and humbling depiction of a gay community as a family unit”
Sun, sand, Neighbours, barbies, surfing, The Ashes and cans of Fosters are probably some of the first things that come to mind when us Brits think about Down Under. However, Tommy Murphy’s play Strangers In Between is far removed from the fun-loving, care free personas of our Aussie compadres. Although most of the first half is spent in fits of laughter, it is a bittersweet tale about trying to shake off troubled pasts and becoming comfortable with who you are. Having had two successful runs at The King’s Head Theatre, Strangers In Between makes its tremendous West End transfer to the Trafalgar Studios.
Teenage runaway Shane tries to make his way in the seedy yet vibrant Sydney district of Kings Cross, fleeing from his family and country bumpkin upbringing. What initially comes across as a lad filled with provincial naivety, whose cluelessness with adulting reaches another level, soon becomes clear that something more serious lies beneath. Haunted by his distressing past that has left deep scars, Shane stumbles through his new, lonely, big city life, whilst also trying to come to terms with his sexuality. Fortunately, the men that Shane encounters offer comfort and compassionate support, taking him under their wing as they guide him, often comically, and most certainly patiently, through his personal dramas.
Roly Botha plays the fragile Shane with incredible vulnerability, proving to be an acting talent to look out for in the future. Stephen Connery-Brown gives a solid performance as the witty and warm-hearted older man that Shane befriends, whilst Dan Hunter flexes his versatility at being able to multi role the polarising characters of Shane’s lover and older brother.
This three-hander play, presents a tender and humbling depiction of a gay community as a family unit, steering clear of any flamboyant stereotypes. With Murphy’s naturalistic dialogue it microscopically zooms into the minute details of the human condition. However, a lot of the time this seems to be diluted with a rather idealistic, rosy outlook, where good-natured strangers regularly offer acts of kindness. How easily this would truly occur in a major city is dubious. But, cynicism placed firmly to one side, Strangers In Between offers an affectionate drama that has some cracking one-liners and awkward first-time moments that many of us can relate to.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Scott Rylander
Strangers in Between
Trafalgar Studios until 3rd February
Strangers in Between
King’s Head Theatre
Opening Night – 11 January 2017
“A delightful, yet deeply dramatic account of a young man’s troubled journey into adulthood”
Tommy Murphy’s award winning play returns to the King’s Head Theatre after a hugely popular and critically acclaimed run last year. Retaining the same cast, would this coming of age story still delight?
Strangers in Between is a story focused around Shane (Roly Botha), a naïve teenager who has run away from the challenges of his life in small town Goulburn to the bright lights of Sydney.
Struggling to hold down dead end jobs and living in near squalor in a damp, potentially haunted room (according to Shane), the totally undomesticated youngster meets Will, a blue eyed blond hunk with perfect lips (once again, according to Shane). He and Will share some passionate times until Shane’s immaturity ruins their friendship.
Shane also manages to alienate his only other friend in the city, the middle aged overtly gay Peter (Stephen Connery-Brown), a man quick on the saucy innuendo and racy ribaldry.
When he most needs his few friends, his brother Ben (also played by Dan Hunter), whom he left Goulburn to get away from, turns up. An already angst-ridden Shane falls deeper into a world of desolation.
Casting is spot on, Stephen Connery-Brown expertly grasping the nuances of the experienced older gay man in Peter. Dan Hunter shines both as the seemingly clean cut Will and the deeply troubled Ben. But by far the stand out performance is by Roly Botha, every expression, every word, every move all totally believable. He makes you want to reach out and hug Shane. And teach him how to do the laundry.
There are some wonderful gags throughout. Shane’s lack of life skills bringing some of the biggest laughs with curious yet endearing questions such as ‘Where do you get coat hangers from?’ followed by the toe curling ‘how do you do anal sex?’. The food / Ben’s girlfriends gag is a nice one and cleverly resurrected later in the play (go see the play if you want to know what it is!).
For the small space, the play is well designed. Basic sets changed by the cast and smoothly transitioned with sound and lighting work well.
This is a truly touching story of lives unexpectedly brought together and of bonds broken and mended. For me, the back story of what had happened to Ben was a little rushed and the nudity of the last scene really served no purpose. Other than that, an engaging couple of hours.
A thoughtful portrayal of youthful inexperience, sexuality, family and friendships. Catch it while you can.
Strangers in Between is at the King’s Head Theatre until 4th February. Click on the logo below for tickets and further information.