Reginald Theatre, June 3


Nina Raine’s play doesn’t just ask us questions, it cross-examines us. Is morality innate? Are there degrees of rape? If you love someone, must you also love their flaws? Must you experience the same traumatic incident to truly empathise?

Jeremy Waters. Top: Jessica Bell. Photos: Phil Erbacher.

Cross-examination, Tim tells us, is a very damaging form of communication, and he should know: he’s a barrister. In fact five of Raine’s seven characters are lawyers, so they argue most eruditely. Once or twice the playwright’s voice peeps through proceedings, but otherwise she leaves them to tear themselves to shreds. Witnessing their bickering, lying, manipulation, lust and adultery is almost like watching a blood sport, except in sport there’s usually someone to cheer. Here most of the characters are not just flawed, they’re unlikable and pitted with vices – yet we watch on enthralled.

The play centres around two couples whose relationships are decomposing: Jake (Jeremy Waters) and Rachel (Jennifer Rani), both lawyers, and Kitty (Anna Samson) and Edward (Nic English), the latter another. The aforementioned Tim (Sam O’Sullivan) is a colleague who’s unhappily single, as is Zara (Anna Skellern), a friend of Kitty’s. Finally, Jessica Bell plays a solicitor as well as Gayle, a rape victim in a case prosecuted by Tim with Edward representing the unseen defendant.

Photos: Phil Erbacher.

“Who’s my lawyer?” Gayle asks Tim, only to be told she doesn’t get one. Only the defendant does. The legal system’s adversarial nature is among Raine’s targets, as is the selfishness that pollutes our relationships, while her wit takes aim at the prevailing childishness of the sex-craving adults. The men, with their thin ties and their shirts hanging out like their tongues after yet another big night on the turps, even look like schoolboys in Craig Baldwin’s exceptional production for Outhouse Theatre.

Outhouse, usually associated with new American work, here presents the Australian premiere of this London-set play by Britain’s Raine. She gives us debasement of the human spirit, laced with sharp humour and an investigation of the nature of truth. All six actors excel, with Jessica Bell like a lit fuse in Gayle’s major confrontational scene. Soham Apte’s cold, reflective set allows for the requisite fluidity of time and place, and Eliza Scott’s music is as deeply unsettling as the fact that everyone’s moral compass has gone haywire. This is tense, gripping and surprisingly funny theatre.

Until June 24.