Mr Bailey’s Minder - Ensemble Theatre (NSW)
Written by Debra Oswald. Directed by Damien Ryan.
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli 28 July 2023 - 02 Sept 2023
- Led by a superb cast, there is much warmth and heart in this latest revival, offering bouts of laughter and moments for plenty of tears -
Trudging down the stairs of the specifically built staircase for the revival of Mr. Bailey’s Minder, John Gaden visibly wafts alcoholic decay in his purposefully unstable movements. The calls of a viper directed at his estranged daughter, Margo (Rachel Gordon) elicit laughter from the audience, but none from me. Instead, the sight of the dishevelled Leo, clearly riddled by age and abuse to his body instantly cuts through the grain. That’s not to say Mr. Bailey’s Minder isn’t funny, but the layers of depth to Leo Bailey go beyond the retorts and Scrooge-like torments.
Staged more than twenty ago and written by Debra Oswald, Mr. Bailey’s Minder sees celebrated painter Leo Bailey (Gaden) living alone in a ramshackled house that screams live-in art installation. The decades of alcohol, costly lifestyle and estranged marriages have taken its toll, leaving Leo to cycle through carers who last no more than a week with him. It’s not until the beautifully chaotic, rough around the edges Therese (Claudia Ware) enters the picture, that Leo seems to have met his match. With no carer experience, a shady past and the need for a roof over her head, Therese is ready to go head to head with Leo’s recklessness.
The cast of Mr. Bailey's Minder at Ensemble Theatre (2023). Images by Prudence Upton.
Oswald’s script holds with it some profound truths about the debilitating health care industry, as well as the notion of art and its ability to admonish the artist’s sins. Particularly after the pandemic, the discussions on how we approach and disregard the elderly was thrown back into social and political conversations. Mr. Bailey’s Minder continues that discussion, but adds in a pattering of forgivable cliches to create heartwarming and at the same time, heartbreaking scenes.
With direction by Damien Ryan, the pace of the show runs smoothly, offering fiery outbursts amongst its characters, as well as intimate scenes where the characters drop their shields, showing the ability to shift throughout. Gaden is superb as Leo, gifted with a thespian’s wit and a well-tuned comedic tongue, Gaden rides the highs and lows of Leo’s journey with ease. Ryan could have utilised Gaden’s craft further to dig to the depths of Leo’s vile nature that we’re told about by Margo throughout, but instead Leo is given the journey of redemption instead. It’s not a wrong decision by any means, but there was room to fully reach the edges of Leo’s persona.
Going toe-to-toe with Gaden, Ware’s Therese is both outlandish and as fragile as Leo. Her desperate nature to do good and outrun her past is the key motivator for Therese throughout. The fine line between carer and protector becomes blurred with moments of pure emotion from Ware that are finely targeted at each objective given on stage.
...it’s the casts’ performances that truly bring to life Oswald’s language, helped in no small part by a beautifully crafted set and stunning lighting design.
As the hard-shelled Margot, Gordon presents a complex character, one built from past trauma and a seemingly impossible mission to be able to see her father as capable of forgiveness. Gordon gives fleeting moments where her guard is dropped before being swiftly pulled back up and bolted shut, providing a justifiably immovable object.
Adding a groundedness and lovability as the handyman, Karl, Albert Mwangi provides the much-needed relief amidst the family drama. Bringing some smooth swinging dance moves and getting humorously close to the audience while he worked, Mwangi was a welcome addition throughout.
The dishevelled house that is literally built into rock is brought to life through Soham Apte’s set design. Utilising Morgan Moroney’s lighting design, a kaleidoscope of colour is thrown across the stage onto blank canvas, thunder becomes eerily real, and Leo’s artistic beauty and madness is smeared across the walls. It’s a gorgeous pairing of creative minds that captivates as well as creates the realism needed to draw in the audience.
Ultimately, the deeper themes of Mr. Bailey’s Minder makes way for a story of redemption and the ability for art to cure all ills. Whilst there is room for a more significant weight to be given throughout the heartwarming friendship of Leo and Therese, it’s the casts’ performances that truly bring to life Oswald’s language, helped in no small part by a beautifully crafted set and stunning lighting design.
Mr. Bailey's Minder
CAST AND CREATIVES
Playwright Debra Oswald
Director Damien Ryan
Assistant Director Margaret Thanos
John Gaden AO
Set & Costume Designer Soham Apte
Lighting Designer Morgan Moroney
Composer & Sound Designer Daryl Wallis
Intimacy, Movement & Fight Director Scott Witt
Stage Manager Lauren Tulloh
Costume Supervisor Renata Beslik
Costume Art Finisher Sasha Wisniowski
28 Jul 2023 - 02 Sep 2023
2hrs 20mins (including interval)
Recommended for ages 14+
Audio Described (selected dates)
Contains strong language, strobe lighting, adult themes, and themes of addiction and mental health.