The Old 505 Theatre at 342 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills is a venue I’ve never been to before and it does feel like I’m entering one of those crack houses as I am buzzed in to the building, pass the graffiti walls, salacious offers of sexual acts scrawled in texta on the elevator and then, wham, there’s a theatre, a cosy arts space, ripe for experimental and new local works.
This is the premier of Stephen Vagg’s newest play ‘Sidekicks’, directed by Louise Alston. It is a witty two-hander exploring our two main characters, CB (Emily Rose Brennan) and Mac (Dan Ilic). CB and Mac are the ‘sidekicks’ to their best friends, Robyn and Hunter. The play delves, through flashbacks, flashforwards and some transformational acting into how these two slightly dysfunctional, anti-heroes might be able to take control of their own lives instead of revolving around the ‘sun’ of their glamorous, successful best friends. Of course there’s romance, intrigue, break-ups, deceit, lies, love and a quick dash to the airport.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable show. Both Ilic and Brennan pump out that dialogue like they were in an Aaron Sorkin series that had mated with an episode of Gilmore Girls. You might not even catch all the dialogue but it doesn’t matter- the play won’t lose coherence and the energy is palpable. Vagg’s play is a clever, witty vehicle for its confident cast that also allows a sense of play and the ability to comment on itself, Brechtian style, when actor overlapped with character. It was a great touch and often they included us in on the joke. It looked like it was fun to be in and it was certainly fun to watch.
I particularly enjoyed the moments when Ilic and Brennan had to play each other’s best friend, Robyn and Hunter. Let’s just say hirsute Ilic makes for very unconvincing ‘man-bait’ as Robyn but that was part of the humour. And then…there’s the sex scene. I don’t even know where to start but the sheer energy and awkwardness of the whole moment, complete with action and sound, without ever touching was enough to break the most serious of theatre-goers into laughter or at least drive them to therapy. Never has a park bench been utilised so well.
There were a few beats of serious intention and both performers managed to deliver these with skill and pathos. They create, manipulate and extend both comic and dramatic tension and you would be hard pressed to come out of that show not having enjoyed yourself in the 80 minute performance.
Louise Alston has tightly constructed her direction of Vagg’s play to best maximise the small open space of the theatre and complement the personalities of her cast. I thought the visual overlays of Lexie Tanner’s graphic design, especially in the opening scenes that place us squarely at the airport or at the law firm, CB's home, etc were another great touch. The soundscapes from Adrian Bilinski implied movement and enhanced the dynamic sense of location, ably aided by Grant Fraser’s lighting design.
There were a few rare times the play felt like it lagged a little, weighed down by the huge amount of material, inner monologues and shifting thoughts and intentions but it is all forgiven in this play of flavour and fun.
If you can brave entering the space, you won’t be disappointed. Check it out.