What is fact and what is fiction? You are left asking that question after an exhilarating 50 minutes at Chapel Off Chapel, with the wonderfully written and performed gay political thriller Dirt. The intrigue keeps ratcheting up. Just when you think you have a fix on what is going on, the rug is pulled from under you.
The setting is present day Moscow. Kolya (Patrick Livesey) is a tour guide with a very dry sense of humour. Connor (Wil King) is an Australian tourist who engages Kolya in conversation after a tour. The starting point is a pronouncement by Kolya that Russia exports the most dirt in Europe. Soon follows an invitation to join Connor for drinks. That’s when a discussion about Russia’s treatment of gays takes place and Connor reveals his family story.
An only child from Tasmania, Connor witnessed a tragedy when he was still a boy. For his part, Kolya doesn’t speak to his parents and something happened to his sister in Chechnya. Although seemingly much more forthcoming and effusive, Connor has an ulterior motive. Kolya has a ruthless streak. In fact, he can be quite terrifying. All the action takes place over the course of a single day and night during which the pair talk, connect, party and more.
There is a great deal to appreciate about Dirt. It is witty and willing, and deals with real world issues. Playwright Angus Cameron hits many a raw nerve in a dangerous game of subterfuge. His writing style is alluring, snippets drip fed on the road to greater understanding of what is going down. I was just as captivated by the acting. Livesey (with his convincing Russian accent) and real-life partner King bring authenticity to their respective roles. Livesey has wary cynicism down pat, while King is more the inquisitive and passionate enthusiast as the wannabe righter of wrongs.
The minimal staging – a couch that converts to a bed, a drinks’ stand and coat stand – works well because this is a play which relies heavily on the telling of stories. Bronwen Coleman is spot on with her direction. Dirt draws you in and holds you tight throughout. Although you learn more about the characters and their hot buttons as the piece unfolds, an air of mystery remains. I look forward to seeing more from this writer and from these performers. Dirt is playing at Chapel Off Chapel until 5th June, 2022.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Gone Girls (Gasworks) – theatre review
- Gilligan’s Island: The Musical (Chapel off Chapel) – theatre review
- Parade (Chapel Off Chapel) – musical theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.