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REVIEW: The Share | The Reginald, Sydney

The Share, a new play from Daniel Keene, is a tight, uncompromising and confronting piece of theatre about two blood brothers on the wrong side of the tracks.

Scott Marcus and Tim Spencer in The Share | The Reginald

Daniel Keene’s The Share is brought to us by Peter Gahan, in association with five.point.one. It’s a tight, uncompromising, confronting, darkly funny 55 minutes of theatre. Directed by Corey McMahon, it goes nowhere — but travels some distance down some controversial paths.

Seymour’s downstairs, pocket-sized theatre, The Reginald, has been reconfigured for the production designed by Cassandra Backler. A matte metallic thrust stage ensures hard surfaces reflect the hard lives of Tex and Sugar, two blood brothers leading a reluctant life of petty crime. Sugar is, perhaps, a few grains short of a sack, but his heart’s in the right place. Tex is constantly and cruelly reminding Sugar of his intellectual insufficiency but, ironically, it comes from the right place: he worries about and feel responsible for him.

Keene has almost invented a whole new language for these characters. And for us. It’s coarse, even brutal; but even amidst a flurry of expletives and studied political incorrectness, Keene has derived a beautiful cadence. It’s not hip hop, but it’s some kind of new street poetry. Out of sheer, unrelenting, punishing boredom, Tex and Sugar argue semantics, as they discuss and debate means to their modest ends. Out of the same tedium, they agree to fight, with the more diminutive Sugar, despite putting on a brave front, coming off very much the worse for wear.

Sugar has happened upon a kid, wearing an eye patch, who’s filled him in on the movements of a drug dealer. Sugar gradually persuades Tex they can jump the dealer and his pig-dog, to acquire some cash. They set about procuring tools for their rough trade: two long-handled shovels. All the better to clobber their would-be victims. They do the deed and retire to the pub with a wad of cash. The only legacy of their assault (apart from two left-for-dead victims) is Sugar’s dog bite. The kid and Tex tease him about the prospect of contracting rabies.

They give thanks to their pint-sized informant by getting him pissed. In the course of the endeavour, the kid calmly and painstakingly relates the story of George, a five-year-old he’s raped. Even by the “worldly” standards of Tex and Sugar, it represents a new low in human dignity and serves to sap their running-on-empty optimism. As you do, Tex decides removing the kid’s remaining eye might be good sport. He unceremoniously sets about it, with a broken beer bottle.

The black mood of the play can, perhaps, be exemplified by Tex’s rejoinder, on hearing the kid’s testimony that before returning George to his thankful mother (claiming to have found him in a bad way and taken care of him) he gave him a kiss. ‘That was nice.’

Luke Ashby, seated, partially obscured, high above our heads, played a live, dirty, bluesy soundtrack that was all rail crossings and angst. Scott Marcus, Thomas Conroy and Tim Spencer are cold-bloodedly brilliant. Marcus makes for a muscular big brother, in every sense; struggling to reconcile detonating anger with his innately caring nature and, you’d have to say, failing. Tim Spencer incarnates Sugar with profound physical and emotional empathy; it’s a gold standard performance. Tom Conroy is the quintessential sociopath; detached, unemotional, qualm-free.

The Share reminds us that not everyone gets theirs. In fact, precious few do. George’s share is premature loss of innocence. The street kid’s share is losing his sight. And his way; becoming blind to what it means to be human. Tex and Sugar’s share is embitterment, loss of faith and hope. Sugar’s bitten by a dog. He becomes desperately ill. On death’s doorstep, he proclaims to Tex, “I win”. There’s only one way out and Sugar, despite his arguably greater frailties, scrambled for the exit a little more tenaciously than Tex. Life’s a bitch. A dog. While the rich are licked by pedigreed pooches, the poor are kicked, hard-bitten and afflicted.

In questioning the nature and origin of “badness”, it traverses similar territory to TRS’ The Blue Angel Hotel. It even jests about it, when Sugar and Tex recite, by turns, a shopping-list of explanations. “I didn’t get enough vitamins as a child”; et al.

But it all seems so remote, as we swig another sauvignon blanc. Good on Keene and co for bringing it back home, so forcefully and unpalatably.

The details: The Share plays Seymour Centre’s The Reginald until December 8. Tickets on the venue website.

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