Amazing and heart-moving shows often become extraordinary and heart-tearing when they get the opportunity to be re-staged and seen by new audiences.
Fortyfivedownstairs programmed two recent solo independent shows and gave them the time and space to develop into a night of theatre that reminds us why independent theatre is such an important part of our industry.
kerosene was first seen in 2021 at Theatre Works and SIRENS was in the 2022 Melbourne Fringe. Both were reviewed with enthusiasm and kerosene won a couple of Green Room awards.
Both are written by Melbourne’s Benjamin Nichol, who performs SIRENS and co-directed kerosene, which is performed and co-directed by Izabella Yena, who also co-created SIRENS. Liv Satchell directed SIRENS.
In kerosene Millie (Yena) lives in the outer suburbs and has a school friend called Annie who loves her so much that she farts spectacularly in public to take away from Millie’s own embarrassment. As they get older, they are forced apart until Millie knows that Annie needs her love again.
In SIRENS, Eden lives in a country town that relies on tourists where he cleans Air B&Bs and an aged-care home and meets any man-with-an-app within range. He’s happy with this life and still sings with his mum in the church Christmas carols. But when he meets older David, whose returning home to see his dying father, Eden sees a world he didn’t know about and plans to leave.
While both characters speak directly to the audience, their monologues are in their heads. They tell versions of their stories that fit with their memories; versions that let them wake up, take that first breath of the day and keep going with something that resembles hope.
Mille and Eden aren’t necessarily likeable, and both behave in ways that could make us think they deserve the consequences of their choices. But the performers let us see the deepest hurt and secrets that the characters don’t show, and this empathy and understanding brings us so close that we share their hope, even when we know they are making decisions that hurt themselves and others.
On an empty stage (made alive with Harrie Hogan’s lighting and Connor Ross’s sound), Nichol’s writing is visually evocative and symbolic without being obvious. From an urban swimming pool to that beach near a “clown with a broken smile”, from the silence of underground Coober Pedy to a karaoke night in a country pub, the detail makes it feel like we are there.
These places are filled with the people who Millie and Eden know and sometimes love. These characters are as real as Mille and Eden. Nichols shows enough detail to let the audience imagine them and see them though Millie and Eden’s eyes, without ever forcing us to see the writer’s or performer’s versions of them.
And, while so much of this work is a reflection on queerness, class, violence and age, the characters are not defined by queerness, class, violence or age.
SIRENS and kerosene began as individual pieces but have grown into a bigger work that makes them feel like they belong together. Mille and Eden would not be friends, but they live in the same world and make choices based on love that only they understand.
If, like me, you saw the original productions, seeing how they’ve developed and grown is highly recommended. If you missed them, especially when they were sold out, don’t regret missing them again.
kerosene & SIRENS
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 3 August 2023
Season continues to 13 August 2023
Information and Bookings: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com
Images: Izabella Yena in kerosene | Benjamin Nichol in SIRENS – photos by Darren Gill
Review: Anne-Marie Peard