August 23


Let’s face it, Darlinghurst Theatre’s Thom Paine (Based on Nothing) in June of last year apart, streamed theatre seldom cuts it without TV-scale budgets. But what if you don’t try to provide vision? What if you just provide the sound? Suddenly a level of radio-play professionalism springs within reach if a play can be adapted in this way – and a surprisingly high number can.

Duncan Wass. Photos supplied.

Miranda Gott’s debut play Kangaroo, developed with help from the Central West Short Play Festival, was enjoying a regional NSW tour when Delta struck. Foreseeing that its Penrith season at the Joan might be compromised, director Becky Russell and her actors steamed into a small studio in Bathurst before that city was locked down, and cut Kangaroo – The Audio Experience. This is now available for free via the Joan’s website – consolation prize for being unable to attend the live show.

Of course pursuing this unusual strategy would now be much more complex. Russell and her supporting organisations (including Q Theatre) had the luxury of using a proper studio, rather than having to attempt a coherent recording remotely and digitally.

In the event Kangaroo required a relatively few rewrites, because its three protagonists primarily function as narrators. Add the vividness of its characters and the poeticism of its language, and it emerges as a distant cousin of that greatest radio play of all, Under Milk Wood. Like that work, too, Gott’s people and language animate stories of life in a small town – in this instance somewhere in the outback’s farthest reaches.

Madelaine Osborn.

Melissa is 23, and, having survived a tyrannical father, now faces an erratic relationship with the violent bloke who’s sired her little girl. Middle-aged Mick, once dux of his school, now oversees the local sewage farm, a fall from grace partly accounted for by a phantom from his past which rears up later in the play. Then there’s Barbara, a university art historian and tree-changer, whose husband, having bought a farm and some sheep, has left her to her own dwindling devices, while he misbehaves back in the city.

Despite their worlds shrinking around them like a strangulated creeks, there’s a breadth to these people, aided by fine performances adroitly scaled for radio from Madelaine Osborn as Melissa, Duncan Wass as Mick and Geraldine Brown as Barbara. Mick, for instance, is an autodidact who laments the sudden upsurge of books in landfill, and is a connoisseur of the seasonal changes in the town’s effluent, with Christmas straining the system to capacity, and Easter producing a chocolatey sludge.

The stories of all three characters become more confronting as they converge upon shared roles in a death. But this gothic dimension is as dry and hard as the earth – and all the more moving for that, especially in the case of Barbara’s gradual unravelling. As a work of aural theatre Kangaroo stirs the imagination over a high heat, sharing with Wake in Fright an ability to depict a deeply disturbing outback, as the characters lay out their saddening lives for us.

The hour-long play does contain a visual dimension in as much as segments of the text involve Barbara lecturing on the work of the female Italian Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi, and the Joan’s website lets you view these startling paintings as you listen. When the theatre reopens, Kangaroo is slated to return in the flesh.