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BWW Review: TWO BROTHERS at Holden Street Theatres

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Thursday 18th May 2017

Red Pheonix formed last year and their first production, Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, was a finalist in the Adelaide Critics Circle Award for Amateur Group. Their raison d'etre is to produce only works that have never been performed in Adelaide. They have also become the resident theatre company at Holden Street Theatres, where this work will be performed in, The Studio. Their second production was David Williamson's, Don Parties On, the sequel to his famous early play, Don's Party. Now Red Pheonix is back with HAnnie Rayson's, Two Brothers, directed by Robert Kimber. Some of Rayson's other and, perhaps, better-known works are Hotel Sorrento, Inheritance, and Life After George.

Brothers, Brant and Michael Eustice, play the two brothers, James 'Eggs' Benedict, and Tom, respectively. They are celebrating Christmas. 'Eggs' is the Minister for Home Security and, possibly, the next Prime Minister. Tom is the head of a charity, and an advocate for refugees. With diametrically opposed ideologies, they still manage to get along, each respecting the views of the other.

They are based on those other two brothers, the Costellos, Peter at that time being the Treasurer in John Howard's Liberal and National Party coalition government, and Tim a Baptist minister and now Chief Advocate of World Vision Australia. So there we have it, two brothers, playing two brothers, based on two brothers.

In the Indian Ocean, an Indonesian fishing boat carrying refugees sinks, and 250 lives are lost. There is one survivor, Hazem Al-Ayed, played by Fahad Farooque. This brings the brothers into direct conflict when 'Eggs' opposes Hazem's request for asylum and permanent residence, and then stabs and kills Hazem, claiming that it was in self-defence. This happens at the beginning of the play and then we are taken back to see the events that led up to this point.

This work makes reference to the SEIV X (Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel X, the X indicating that a number had not yet been assigned), which went down in international waters on 19th October 2001, drowning all aboard. The Australian Navy has been accused of having stood by doing nothing to help, but this has not been proved. The Australian government argued that the vessel was in Indonesian waters, and not their concern, while it has been said that it was in international waters, being patrolled by Australian vessels turning back refugees, which they called illegal immigrants. The controversy over this event was reflected in the controversy that arose when this play was first produced. This play is as relevant now, if not more so, than it was when first staged in 2005.

The Benedict brothers are like chalk and cheese and this gives the Eustice brothers a vast playing field on which to carry out the verbal conflict, with 'Eggs' wanting to deport Hazem, and Tom, trying to convince him to give him permanent residency. 'Eggs' is not alone, as he has his assistant, Jamie Savage, played by Alicia Zorkovic, a character that is clearly based on Peta Credlin, the puppeteer who pulled Tony Abbott's strings when he was Prime Minister. 'Eggs' is also having an affair with Jamie.

Brant Eustice presents a character that is evil, to begin with, and descends further and further into the murky world of politics as the play progresses. At the family Christmas celebration, he takes a phone call about the tragedy and orders a Navy vessel to leave the area. His son, Lachlan, played by Joshua Coldwell, is on that ship and the event, naturally, has a permanent effect on him, worsened by discovering later that it was his own father behind the decision to leave the refugees to drown.

Brant Eustice creates a cold, self-serving, arrogant, and inconsiderate character that we love to hate, and who reminds us of numerous politicians, current and past. It must be remembered that the Australian government has incarcerated many refugees in offshore detention centres, and left them there to rot for years. No matter how far Brant Eustice takes his character, nobody in the audience would say that it was too far-fetched and hard to believe. Lies, corruption, bribery, and cover-ups abound as 'Eggs' claws his way steadfastly towards the position of Prime Minister. Nothing will stand in his way, not even his own brother or other members of the family, and certainly not a refugee, nor even having committed murder.

Brant Eustice is frighteningly convincing in the role, his characterisation thorough and complex, and totally believable. This is one of his finest performances, but he is not alone in offering an impressive performance in this fine cast.

Michael Eustice's Tom is all compassion and understanding, determined to do as much as he can for refugees, within the limits of his resources, of course. He befriends Hazem, who becomes something of a special case for Tom, then finds himself being attacked, along with his family, by his own brother being offered bribes, and suffering threats. Michael Eustice is the equal of his brother, offering another exceptional performance and establishing a character that provides a perfect foil for his brother's arch villain.

The rapport between the two Eustice brothers is a key part of the excellence of this production, coupled with the strength of the entire cast, all of whom bring considerable experience to their roles. Inspired casting has been a primary factor in the success of this new company's productions.

Fahad Farooque gives a very sympathetic interpretation of the role of Hazem, capturing the emotional turmoil the man has suffered at the tragic loss of his wife and daughters, and the fear of being deported. His performance will move you, as it moved the audience on opening night.

"Eggs's" wife, Fiona, is played by Lyn Wilson in one more of her finely crafted performances, completely immersed in the role as the neglected and mentally abused wife. Her ultimate resignation to the fact that being the wife of the Prime Minister means putting up with her husband, and that that entails, is a beautiful moment in her performance.

Tracey Walker plays Tom's wife, Angela, whose Greek descent reminds us of earlier times of immigration, when Australia needed to increase the size of the population but turned only to Europe. Walker gives a superb portrayal of the outgoing and protective wife and mother.

Joshua Coldwell finds all of the complexities in the role of "Eggs's" son, Lachlan, on the one hand, a sailor doing his duty, as ordered, but realising that his father caused the deaths of many by issuing the orders that he obeyed. His anguish and confusion are displayed marvellously by Coldwell.

Joshua Mensch plays Tom's son, Harry, easy going, claiming now to be no longer taking drugs, then caught up in all of his uncle's machinations. Mensch captures Harry's lifestyle in his characterisation, giving us yet another very believable character.

The role of Jamie Savage is filled by Alicia Zorkovic who is every bit the power behind the throne, the orchestrator of every step of "Eggs's" path to the top, removing barriers, and hiding blunders. She is perfect in the role, making Jamie crisp, efficient, and devoid of morals.

Cheryl Douglas fills a number of minor roles as the maid, a television announcer, and the secretary to Jamie and "Eggs", producing a range of different characters.

Richard Kimber has assembled a superior cast and crafted a powerful piece of theatre, producing another feather in the cap of Red Pheonix. Richard Parkhill's lighting also has a big part to play with the set used in part or in whole for the many locations and all hours of the day and night to be depicted. This is also a technically very proficient performance.

This is a significant play that makes reference to some political dynamite, coupled with a sensation performance, so be sure to book tickets, if you still can.

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From This Author Barry Lenny