REVIEW: Mixd Drinx | Old 505 Theatre, Sydney
Mixd Drinx, written by Sean O’Riordan and directed by same, first saw light of day a decade ago. In the most surreal possible way, it explores the nature and boundaries of relationships. It has something of the aesthetic of a bad dream; the kind one gets after eating too much cheese. When is infidelity infidelity and when isn’t it? Are you unfaithful to your present partner the moment you have a lustful thought about another? Or not until you do the deed? What is ethical and what is mere social propriety, or convention?
O’Riordan was also producer and even player in the original production, at Tap Gallery Theatre back in 2002. The show was well-received then and went on to a second season, at Glen Street, the following year. Almost a decade on, it’s back, at the Old 505, with an all-new, younger cast.
Two couples who are friendly with each other are each having their relationship woes, but oblige by fulfilling the social contract and hanging out in a bar. Inevitably, as they imbibe the customary lubricant, tongues start wagging and libidos are unleashed, with thinly-veiled, coy confessions of lust and longing all-round. That’s straightforward enough, but the dialogue is ‘heightened’ by some very stiff performances, the quintessential antithesis of naturalism.
The reasons for this are unclear, but it’s weirdly, almost inexplicably captivating. Perhaps it’s too mimic the falseness of the social games we play, which dance around and mask the thoughts and feelings we actually have. Or to mock the robotic inanity of our day-in, day-out small talk, even (or especially) within the relative safe, secure, private world of the couple, or between best friends. It becomes an auto piloted performance, from which our conscious minds are almost divorced. So, if the object is satire, the rigid delivery works rather well.
O’Riordan’s influences couldn’t be more diverse (he cites Python, Milligan, Berkoff, the Marx Brothers, Pinter, Fo and Hampton), but finding any hint of them is challenging. O’Riordan’ seems to have a sense of humour all his own. It doesn’t always hit the mark. So, while I understand the writer-director might be tickled by a brand new cast reinventing his work, it’s not as though he didn’t see it in rehearsal and to him laughing loudest isn’t a good look. Or sound.
But that’s incidental. What does work is the surrealism. It captures the quality of intoxication, as well as the strangeness that often besets intimate relationships when one is reacquainted, in a blinding flash, of their precariousness and fragility. It also points to the surrealism, pretence and unreality of monogamy, which goes against the grain of evolution and human nature. After all, when it comes down to it, humans are animals too; lest we forget.
The character of the barman is one of the most interesting. He is, literally and figuratively, the captor; the one who holds all accountable, depriving them of their liberty until such time as they liberate themselves, by coming clean with their thoughts and feelings, however ‘dirty’. He not only denotes bottled-up emotions, unbolted by the steady and excessive consumption of countless bottles, but alcohol itself, elevated to an almost inviolable pedestal in Australian and other societies; a revered truth serum, a surefire route to authentic conversation and desired conjugation.
Of course, in the cold light of the next day, none of the foregoing necessarily looks that attractive. The barman embodies all of this: he is the giver, the enabler, of all these wonderful and horrible possibilities; your best friend and worst enemy. Matthew Williams seems to get better and better as the play wears on, relishing his oddball role and inspiring most of the laughter (and not just from O’Riordan). There is more absurdity in the barman’s screwy aspiration to become a teller of children’s stories, ‘though, I have to confess, I’m still a little puzzled as to whether the interpolation of Jack & The Beanstalk has any metaphorical relevance; even if it has a comical one, inasmuch as Williams being tall and Cairelli diminutive. Perhaps I’m being obtuse.
The play begins with an argument between John (Reece Vella) and Sarah (Eleanor Ryan). John is determined to break the silence between them, so takes drastic action, cutting the cord to the television. Sarah sees this as an unforgivable act. In her book, presumably, cutting the lifeline to MasterChef, Being Lara Bingle and The Shire is tantamount to turning off life-support. Still, now is not the time or place, as they’re about to meet up with their old mates Harry (Nelson Cairelli) and Jenny (Kailey Higgins), at the pub, the other bastion of contemporary culture.
Once the foursome have met up, much of interest comes to light. For example, we learn of John’s obsession with sensuality; the kinetic possibilities of bodies, in particular, and how this has led, apparently, to an abiding interest in decorating. He confides as much to Harry. Naturally, the stereotypes come to mind and we suspect some latency. It’s a tidy allusion to the pervasiveness of bisexuality throughout the animal kingdom of which, again, we should remind ourselves, we’re very much a part. Harry reciprocates, with a confession about obsession of his own. He loves cooking. We need only look to Nigella to recall all the sexualised possibilities that pertain. There is, of course, the more generalised observation about such interests as substitutions for sexual expression and fulfilment.
Meanwhile, the girls have been busy getting it on. Or at least talking the talk. (In deference to maturity and good taste, I’ll refrain from remarks about lip service.) Sarah goes so far as to pronounce to John that she’s a lesbian and is having, or has had, a torrid, sordid affair with Jenny. It seems to be news to Jenny, at first, but she soon plays along and, anyway, it’s the fantasy that’s important.
The action and dialogue continues in this vein, with the individuals working through their repressed fantasies until such time as they seem thoroughly purged and ready to recouple. Perhaps it’s the therapy we all need. Performance wise, Cairelli and Williams are the standouts. Vella, Ryan and Higgins are valiant, but don’t have the same comic sensibilities. It may be designated for her character, but even if so, Higgins’ tendency to say think (as in ‘everythink’), where thing would, er, suffice, is something she might want to watch.
Script and production are, therefore, not without flaw, but Mixd Drinx is intoxicating enough.
The details: Mixd Drinx played The Old 505 Theatre in Surry Hills on July 18-29.