Marcus Bateson’s Outlier is a tender and hopeful piece exploring a young man’s efforts to find himself and intimacy against the backdrop of a transactional gay sexual milieu and those who take unfair advantage of it.
There is plenty of humour here with nods to contemporary Irish politics, hypocritically woke housemates and the savagely de-personalised online world of gay hook-ups. Jonathon Shilling uses every one of these moments to connect with the audience, building a strong rapport that makes the show’s serious themes more impactful.
Shilling’s performance is electric. He has a remarkable ability to be soaring through the charming, demonstrative parts of a text one minute, and then be beautifully vulnerable the next.
His charisma shines as James in this piece, building an immediate rapport with the audience that gives extra weight to the delicate moments of powerlessness in the text. Shilling gives an emotional and genuine performance here, shaping in James a rounded, complex and compelling character.
Director Gavin Roach has sculpted a simple but evocative set that emphasises James’s exposure in a new setting. Ashleigh Basham and Justin Heaton’s lighting design is effective in adding the necessary transitions between spaces and moments while Jack Burmeister’s score and sound design adds extra detail to the surroundings and compliments the emotional journey of the text.
There are some confronting moments in this show. Consent and coercion are complex topics to address on the stage but Bateson has written them frankly.
This production has approached them well, telling James’s story with an empathetic respect for the conflicting desires and emotional needs at play. It is punctuated with flourishes of humour, delightful character parodies and perhaps naive but nonetheless moving notes of optimism.
As a result, Outlier manages to strike the balance between an honest appraisal of some of the darker sides of gay sexual politics and a heartening coming of age story.
Meat Market Stables, 2 Wreckyn Street, North Melbourne
Performance: Wednesday 1 February 2023
Season continues to 11 February 2023
Information and Bookings: www.midsumma.org.au
Image: Jonathon Shilling in Outlier – photo by James Reiser