A bathtub. Giant playing cards. Splattered blood. Casting a circle around these few props, nine bearded young men crack open bottles of beer. In turn, the audience circles the party: we are at once voyeurs, witnesses, accusers, accomplices and confidants.
The Danger Ensemble vows to “question what theatre is and re-vision it for the future.” Whatever your take on this unusual production, you’ve gotta hand it to ‘em — the ensemble’s visions are bold, brave and compelling.
Sons of Sin, directed by Steven Mitchell Wright, takes the form of a game. The cards lie facedown before the performers; which ones they draw, in turn, will determine the shape of the show. One card grants the audience permission to name any dare; another demands the creation of a new group rule or the confession of a secret; yet another signals the unfolding of a surreal tableau.
No two shows are the same, and it’s likely you’ll see things you’ve never seen in a theatre space before. You might even be the one to suggest them.
For the nine actors (Alex Fowler, William Horan, Thomas Hutchins, Aaron Wilson, Ron Seeto, Chris Farrell, Samuel Schoessow, Charlie Schache and Stephen Quinn), Sons of Sin is an incredibly demanding show. It’s luck of the draw what they’ll need to perform next, from prepared monologue to improvised violence to nude scenes. The cast’s chemistry holds this show together; they seem to possess a hive mind. Collectively, they possess a burning, restless energy that makes it hard to tell one from another.
Sons of Sin explores the condition of the modern “lost boy” — risk-taking 20-somethings with energy to burn, anger to bottle and insecurities to drown. There’s no overarching narrative; rather, the characters expose more of themselves, piece by piece, through the game.
The show covers a lot of ground, but its chance nature prevents Sons of Sin from becoming an exhaustive survey of masculinity — good move. That said, the cast avoid some fantastic opportunities for development; when an audience member asks, “You’re white, male and middle class — why are you so angry?” during a session of “truth”, the question is fobbed off as boring, and we return to questions about masturbation, sharting, etc.
It’s an interesting work to compare with Daniel Santangeli and Genevieve Trace’s Room 328 (Metro Arts, Brisbane Powerhouse) and Sven Swenson’s The Truth About Kookaburras — both Brisbane productions concerning Lost Boys. (Incidentally, Brisbane stages have seen a lot of cock in the last few years. Just pointing that out.) In style, Sons of Sin is closest to Room 328, but in tone it is much more intimidating. The sons’ power dwells, tossing and turning, in their unpredictability.
I admit I’m immediately won over by any show that invites me in. In an immersive production, it can be just as interesting to watch the audience as the performers. You’ll speak with, drink with and probably touch these men, and it’s impossible not to be absorbed into their chaos. A warning, though: wear clothes you don’t mind getting wet or even stained. Fluids will fly. (Funnily enough, I had a glass of wine spilled over me not by a performer, but by a fellow audience member. Oh, well.) And do be aware that Sons of Sin is confronting and changeable.
The Judith Wright Centre has gutted and transformed its main theatre space for this show. For anyone who regularly visits the Judy, it’s aptly disorienting. The JWC website states that Sons of Sin may run for anywhere between 90 and 110 minutes. We got more bang for our buck (or review comps, yes); opening night’s running time, interval included, was closer to 150 minutes.
In the second half, the incredible demands on the cast start to show; the performers’ energy begins to waver, and so does ours — especially as motifs repeat, by chance. (After nearly two and a half hours of standing, following, ducking and dancing, the audience swarms from the theatre towards somewhere to sit down.)
Sons of Sin works best in its scenes of action — whether spontaneous or choreographed — as well as moments of reflection. The show suffers from dense, shouted monologues that cause the game to lag. The Sons already show their sins so well, there’s often no need to tell. The inclusion of a verbose climax suggests that Wright and co-devisors don’t trust the game to speak for itself. It does.
Sons of Sin holds up a broken mirror to a culture of casual violence. If you let them, The Danger Ensemble will take you on a wild, exhausting, worthy ride. Wear a raincoat. Pick your poison. Think up some wicked dares.
SONS OF SIN runs at the Judith Wright Centre until 25 May, 2013.