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BWW Review: WATCHLIST at Bakehouse Theatre

A new play gets its premiere.

BWW Review: WATCHLIST at Bakehouse Theatre Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Thursday 3rd June 2021.

A new play by a local playwright is always a good reason for a night at the theatre, especially when the writer is already a respected practitioner. Alex Vickery-Howe is precisely that, and Watchlist is his latest play, presented by the South Australian Playwrights' Theatre, and directed by Lisa Harper Campbell. It was to have been performed a year ago but, ironically, it was delayed by COVID-19. You'll understand the irony when you see the final moments in the play.

Hapless Basil Pepper falls for Delia Dengel, but he gets far more than he bargained for. He is the shallowest of thinkers, drifting through life, paying little attention to anything beyond his immediate surroundings. She is the complete opposite. He has a wide gap to cross, but his friend, Roger, insists on helping him, although his help is probably something that Basil could have done without.

Delia is a third-generation hippie. She and her mother once sold copies of The Big Issue, in Adelaide, South Australia's capital city. It is an independent, not-for-profit newspaper, sales of which help the homeless, disadvantaged, and marginalised people who sell it on street corners. The big issue in The Big Issue right now is, of course, climate change, and Delia is a committed activist; an eco-terrorist. Her particular area of interest is the meat industry, the killing of animals for human consumption, and the effect of raising those animals on the environment. It has to end, and she plans to be the one to end it.

Basil's attempts to win Delia's heart, lead him to follow her down the path of activism. His mother, and his only friend, Roger, are soon concerned about the changes that they see in him. They try to interfere in his growing relationship. Meanwhile, a government agent, who has long been monitoring Delia, has now taken an unpleasant interest in Basil, too.

As the play opens, Basil, dressed in a 'onesie' patterned after a chameleon, is being interrogated by the less than competent ASIO agent, Norman Gould, and the tale is told in a series of flashbacks, beginning with the funeral of Basil's father, Howard Pepper, where Roger is delivering the eulogy.

Gianluca Noble is Basil, the 'nowhere man', an antihero living in his 'nowhere land', with his parents, letting the world drift past him, and happily sitting in his room, painting his hoards of war-gaming miniature Orcs, and reading Fred Bassett cartoons, which he fails to understand. He is thrown into turmoil when his mother insists that, with his father now gone, it is time for him to move out. Noble neatly negotiates all of the twists and turns in the play, slipping to and fro between the present, and the past, the interrogation, and how he arrived there.

Katherine Sortini plays Delia, who makes a move on Basil at the funeral, starting the whole process. It is not until much later that we discover the reason for her choice. That is not the only secret that she is keeping. Sortini gives us a single-minded woman, an activist who cannot be swayed from her goal, and willing to do whatever she feels is necessary. She creates light and dark moments, with romance and humour, but always has that determination to the fore.

Katie O'Reilly plays Basil's mother, Marie Harbuck, presenting a character who, initially, appears to be detached from the loss of her husband, and the life of her son. Over the course of the play, she develops that character immensely, becoming more emotionally involved with all that is occurring, as we learn more about her and the late Howard.

His friend and mentor, Roger the Knob, played by Eddie Morrison, is a self-styled intellectual and self-acclaimed connoisseur, or, more accurately, a pretentious, high camp buffoon who, for the most part, seems to hang around in his flat dressed in a silk dressing gown without, apparently, being hindered by the constraints of personal hygiene. Morrison is suitably flamboyant, flouncing about the stage, then gradually changing, as his character realises that he is out of his depth.

Norman Gould, the government agent who watches Delia and Basil, adopting several other comical personae, spooks, in order to do so, is played by Matt Hawkins. In his characterisation, Hawkins cleverly suggests that
Norman has been probably employed in the same bottom grade since joining ASIO as a young man, and has been given what was thought to be a pointless surveillance, merely to keep him occupied, and out of the way of those investigating real threats.

Stephen Dean's lighting design is an ever-changing array of contrasting patches of sharply defined lit and dark areas, in a wide range of hues, and there are more cultural references than one can shake a stick at, both in the text and the music, aided and abetted by Sascha Budimski's sound design. Even the stage manager, Claire Miyuki Guerin, going about her set changing, can be assumed to be one of the ASIO spooks.

As a bonus, bringing back memories of the Playbill era, the programme includes the full script of the play, albeit with minor changes having been made by the time of the performance. You have until Saturday 12th June to catch this one, and booking soon is advised as the Bakehouse is an intimate venue.

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