Review: ‘Below’

A tough, hard-hitting play confined to the interior of an isolated and shabby house on the fringe of an Australian mining town, "Below" is a powerfully claustrophobic and unrelentingly bleak exploration of the brutally dysfunctional and co-dependent relationship between British immigrant mining brothers Dougie (Justin Cotta) and John (Russell Dykstra, who won an Oz film award for Fox Searchlight's "Soft Fruit") and, as it turns out, their girlfriend (Maya Stange, who was nominated for an acting award in Bill Bennett's "In a Savage Land").

A tough, hard-hitting play confined to the interior of an isolated and shabby house on the fringe of an Australian mining town, “Below” is a powerfully claustrophobic and unrelentingly bleak exploration of the brutally dysfunctional and co-dependent relationship between British immigrant mining brothers Dougie (Justin Cotta) and John (Russell Dykstra, who won an Oz film award for Fox Searchlight’s “Soft Fruit”) and, as it turns out, their girlfriend (Maya Stange, who was nominated for an acting award in Bill Bennett’s “In a Savage Land”).

Inviting comparisons with Pinter and Beckett, outback noir piece displays strong existentialist and nihilist overtones, brimming with tension and menace that occasionally spills over into physical violence, as each of the alternatively deceitful and fragile characters concocts doomed plans to escape to the never-glimpsed world beyond the room.

Kudos to helmer Patrick Nolan and each of the actors who give almost possessed performances in a starkly lit, dusty set, keeping the suspense and tension factor high as each of their characters weaves webs of deceit, shifts alliances and guards secrets, until mounting pressure forces things into the open.

Praise also for playwright Ian Wilding, who imparts information about the characters’ lives in a measured but fleeting manner, maintaining audience interest throughout.

The world preem of “Below” heralds an important discovery in the British-born , London-trained and now Perth-based Wilding, who is the deserving winner of this year’s playwright’s award from the Griffin, which has a history of notable finds, including Stephen Sewell’s unrelentingly gritty “The Boys,” which preemed at the Stables before it was made into a feature film.

Below

(SBW STABLES THEATER; 150 SEATS; A$ 38 ($ 23.50) TOP)

Production

SYDNEY A Griffin Theater Co. presentation of a play in one act by Ian Wilding. Directed by Patrick Nolan. Designer, Jodie Fried; composer, Oonagh Sherrard.

Crew

Lighting, Ed Wilkinson; stage manager, Terri Gonzalez; voice consultant, Bill Pepper. Opened, reviewed, March 22,2000. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

With

Dougie ..... Justin Cotta John ..... Russell Dykstra Sarah ..... Maya Stange
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