Bastard Territory tells multiple stories through a character’s memories of his past, frustrations with his present, and hopes for the future. Russell (Benhur Helwend) tells the story of his parents’ beginnings, struggles and bitter ends, his family’s fracturing across countries and amidst chaos, and most importantly to him, his search for his real father through his own limited, and at times creatively licensed memories.
Stephen Carleton’s text is loaded with humour and charm that soaks into the audience like water to a dry sponge. Once Russell’s playful narration has set scenes, introduced relationships and rewound time to the 1960s, the work begins to peel away its seemingly simplistic story of drooping domesticity and slowly but surely reveals the questions, secrets and scandals that will drive the two subsequent acts to come. Helwend not only plays Russell as narrator, but also himself at multiple ages, not to mention all three of his possible fathers from his mother’s past. As Helwend steps in and out of the action to comment, question or change character from himself to the mysterious men of the past, he exudes strength, control and vulnerability. Heldwend deserves a mountain of praise for his complex characterisation of all four of his male characters.
An honourable mention must go to Lauren Jackson’s portrayal of the aggitated yet vulnerable Lois. Jackson’s portrayal of Lois was a perfect combination of pain and power in moments that deserved anguish and others that required tough decisions. Her husband Neville, played by Peter Norton in the 60s-70s and Steven Tandy in the early 2000’s, was an equally as complicated and troubled match to Jackson, which Norton did well to begin and Tandy to finish.
With a switching between characters and ages comes a relocation of countries and homes for Russell and his familial confusion. Initially we are introduced to his parents and the early stages of their marriage in the 1960s in Papua New Guinea, then Russell’s childhood in Darwin in the 1970s, and finally, Darwin in 2001 where, to his father’s dismay, Russell and his partner Alistair (Peter Norton) have turned his family home into a café/art gallery/queer cabaret dive. Kris Bird’s design and Sean Pardy’s lighting paired to create a physically open home filled with era appropriate decor, costumes and colours that kept the landscape as a looming force not to be reckoned with. The stripped back set with literally no walls complimented the text’s setup of secrets travelling down hallways or across countries, with wooden beams holding up the seemingly thin and fragile second floor of the exposed structure. The set transitions through decades and from one country to the other through clever restructuring that fits within two separate 20 minute intervals. Likewise, Guy Webster’s sound design brought an accurate nostalgia to the show, and introduced a light yet grounding theme that initially signalled tension yet gradually began to hint at hope.
Director Ian Lawson invites the audience into Russell’s life as a kind of secret sibling, an onlooker who can hide and watch just as Russell does when no-one knows he is listening. Through clever snaps between scenes and characters, Lawson helps Carleton’s three act text fly past as quickly as Russell’s memories. Each act stands alone as its own satisfying insight into diverse characters, complicated relationships and diverse locations, however the work as a whole is loaded with social-political history, issues of racism and homophobia, recycled mistakes and the passing on of broken families from generation to generation. Each character is given a voice that influences the audience, yet none is more powerful than Russell’s. He is the heart of both the story and his family, and the only reliable link to his past; the only thing he can control in the future.
– Written by Rhumer Diball April 8th 2016
BASTARD TERRITORY PRESENTED BY QUEENSLAND THEATRE COMPANY
WED 6 – SAT 16 APRIL, 2016.
Photo credit Stephen Henry.