Review: Loaded

Malthouse-Theatre-Loaded-Danny-Ball-photo-by-Tamarah-ScottAdapted from Christos Tsiolkas’ 1995 debut novel, Loaded established him as a “provocative master of the written word” and a lexicon of Australian literature.

In 1998 it was released as the much lauded film, Head On, directed by Ana Kokkinos and starring Alex Dimitriades and Paul Capsis. Dividing some in the Greek and the Gay communities for its graphic depiction of one man’s hedonistic lifestyle, the film, was one of many to pave the way for queer stories to become mainstream.

The 90s was also a golden era for gay literature in Australia, alongside Loaded, the seminal autobiography, Holding the Man by Tim Conigrave, was also published along with titles by Graeme Aitkin and Phillip Scott, amongst others.

These books provided many gay men an escape from the hum-drum of everyday life. Sexual activities between gay men in Victoria was only decriminalised some fourteen years before (1981), and marriage equality was twenty-years away (2017). Much has changed since then.

Now, in collaboration with playwright Dan Giovannoni, Tsiolkas revisits Ari’s journey from a 21st century perspective with stunning affect.

Originally scheduled to close the 2020 Season, the play was reimagined during the pandemic as an audio experience, which audiences could access remotely. Loaded finally makes it stage debut at the Malthouse Theatre. And what a cracker of a play it is.

Taking a classic work and resetting it in another time period can have its associated risks. Overcoming this, Tsiolkas and Giovannoni, with the deft hand of director Stephen Nicolazzo, Loaded is a superbly crafted work filled with gravitas and vulnerability that was equally compelling as it was engaging.

Navigating Ari’s complex relationship with his sexuality and culture, Danny Ball’s performance is truly captivating. With a righteous display of physicality and abandon, Ball takes us on a journey filled with hedonism, hilarity and despair.

Wishing to set aside his Greek culture and questioning sexuality, Ari is on a spiralling downward journey, determined by desire to increase pleasure and to decrease pain. Amongst it all are flashes of intimacy. Not in the romantic sense, rather but in recognising that even the best of relationships with family, friends and sexual encounters, can come with a cost.

Reminiscent of Melbourne’s brutalist architecture, Nathan Burmeister’s design readily implies the play’s location. An imposing gaudily tiled archway with coloured plastic strips, greets audiences on arrival.

A past design feature of many homes and suburban Greek milk bars, the plastic strips are drawn to reveals a starkly grey revolving floor and textured maroon back wall, allowing Nicolazzo and Ball to freely explore the play’s geographic settings across Melbourne and its surrounds.

Katie Sfetkidis’ lighting is effectively moody and subtle. As to is Daniel Nixon’s sound design, symbiotically underscoring Ari’s world with a menacing pulse interwoven with fragments of his favourite songs.

While some may find the content a little confronting, Loaded is however a terrific example of what can be achieved when all the creative elements of a work aligns – ensuring it not only remains a classic novel, but a worthy addition to the canon of Australian theatre.

Beckett Theatre – Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Wednesday 10 May 2023
Season continues to 3 June 2023
Information and Bookings:

Image: Danny Ball stars in Loaded – photo by Tamarah Scott

Review: Rohan Shearn