A Fortunate Few – Chippen St Theatre (NSW)
Written and Directed by Steven Hopley
Reviewed by Kat Pech
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Presented by Something Wicked at Chippen Street Theatre 17-20 November, 2022 https://www.facebook.com/somthinwickd
Chippen Street Theatre, moments away from the bustle of Redfern station, is a welcoming, low key space and the excitement for the opening night of the world premiere of A Fortunate Few was palpable. The theatre is intimate, with an open, immediate stage and minimal set. Precisely detailed props delineate the spaces; at one end, a large, antique style desk and chair, the other a milk crate and sleeping bag.
As the lights went down, traffic and city noise started up, and a dishevelled, barefoot man walked on stage (Chris Miller, as ‘Mani’), soon joined by an older, expensively-suited man (Victor Kline as ‘Thomas Urquart’). What followed was a short, sharp play about the dynamics of class and wealth in Australia, and what it means to be one of the ‘fortunate few’.
The immediate confrontation between broadly accented and bluntly humorous Mani and powerful, wealthy Thomas Urquart (who believes those who are homeless just need to help themselves) was an extremely familiar interaction, though obviously exaggerated for the stage. It seemed slightly unbelievable that Urquhart would take on Mani for an important position, without ulterior motives, and I spent most of the play waiting for the other shoe to drop. It didn’t. Instead we get a look into the way someone (or at least a white, straight, Australian man) can rise if simply given a leg up and ‘has a go’; whether he can stay true to himself and his origins along the way is something else.
What A Fortunate Few does, it does effectively and with a clear purpose that never felt overwhelmingly didactic.
The cast was excellent and committed. Brendan Layton, first as ‘Gary Bryan’, politician, and later as ‘Homeless Man’ switched impressively. Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou as ‘Laura Urquhart’ is intensely believable as the superior, spoiled woman who has never had to work for anything. Kline played Urquhart with an undercurrent of self-serving drive. Miller’s journey was the most impressive; his bluff charm, determination and humour became more intensely concentrated as the play went on, and was represented precisely through Miller’s body language, posture and vocal control. Miller’s control was demonstrated from his accent, to the easy delivery of the expensive, decanted liquor being a good “bit of piss” to the confident stride and set face at the end.
Two tension-building highlights were the sound design and costuming. The journey was accented using a simple mix of street noise, classical music, and then an overlay of the two. This was echoed in the mirroring of the costuming between Urquhart and Mani as the play progressed, and the adding of more layers for Mani throughout was highly effective.
The play has a message to send and it does it effectively, if bluntly. However, I was left wanting a deeper dive into the issues presented. The nuances of wealth and class disparity and homelessness are myriad, and it’s impossible to delve into them all. A simple acknowledgement of the whiteness of the characters and what that meant, for example, could have added an extra layer of complexity without much change. The time jumps were left to context clues, which worked well. However as we raced toward the end of the play, I wanted more knowledge of what occurred in that in-between time, and some more exploration of what that meant for the characters’ development (mainly Mani’s, but also Laura’s). Some plot points also felt up in the air; the development that’s a key moment in the start of the play was never touched on again. Horse racing was mentioned twice, and was presumably a key interaction for a major plot turn, but wasn’t fully articulated, which meant the major twist felt disjointed. Overall, I just wanted a bit more depth. However, it’s a short play, with a run time of less than an hour; what it explores in that time is highly impactful.
What A Fortunate Few does, it does effectively and with a clear purpose that never felt overwhelmingly didactic. Precise use of stereotypes nimbly avoided caricature, with some truly laugh out loud moments alongside the thought provoking. It was a solidly enjoyable performance to experience.
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Director: Steven Hopley
Producers: Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou and Steven Hopley
Starring Victor Kline, Brendan Layton, Chris Miller & Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou