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Bitches Down Under review – Above The Stag Theatre

Bitches Down UnderJanuary must be the most depressing month in the calendar. Christmas is over, the decorations are down and everywhere is looking drab and boring. The weather is awful and the credit card bills for the festive season have arrived. The best thing to do to escape the January blues is to take a holiday somewhere hot but, if your wallet won’t quite stretch to that then the next best thing is to share someone else’s holiday. So, I would recommend that you get yourself down to the Above the Stag and join the folks for Bitches Down Under.

The plane has barely touched down at Sydney airport before Drew (Liam Nooney) and his fiancé Garth (Ethan Chapples), along with their favourite “fruit Fly” Pam (Hannah Vesty) are in a bar at Bondi Beach. This holiday is very special for Garth and Drew as not only is it their first visit to Mardi Gras but afterwards they are flying off to New Zealand – Pam with them – to get married. The bar is a typical one that you could find on the beach, except it is managed by Max (Lucas Livesey), Garth’s old flatmate and pretty much Drew’s nemesis. As if one flashback is not enough, along comes another holidaymaker, Ollie (Grant Cartwright) a handsome twenty-something with whom Garth also has a bit of a past. Can Drew cope with the onslaught of Garth’s, rather racy, past and will the addition of sexy lifeguard Scott (Tom Mann) give the bitches a trip down under they will never forget?

Bitches Down Under is the third in a trilogy of plays written by Martin Blackburn. My initial concern that, as I hadn’t seen the others, I would be at a disadvantage character and plot-wise were soon dispelled. The plays themselves are all individual stand-alone pieces that share some of the same characters. Martin has a great talent for writing fast-paced bitchy exchanges between people that love each other. This is really true of Max and Garth who’s barbed conversations would look horrendous to an outsider, but are the sort of snide, critical and, at times, downright offensive remarks hurled between really close friends who have a deep affection for each other.

At times for me, it was like listening to me and my old housemate and the things we used to say to each other, ah happy days. However, there is much more to the writing than just bitchiness. Just below the seemingly shallow surface of fun, flirting and Mardi Gras, there is an actually interesting commentary on how much societal pressures influence the behaviour of individuals and how the pressure we put on ourselves can negatively impact everything we do. I’m not going to get all deep and meaningful here, but anyone thinking of dismissing Bitches Down Under as another fluffy bit of gay theatre with no real plot and buff boys taking their shirt off every five minutes is doing the show a real disservice.

Before moving on, a quick word about the production and, once again Director and Set Designer have pulled off an amazing feat. This time turning the rather limited stage space into a working beachfront bar with enough space for everyone to move around and not walk into each other or the audience. I loved the touch of using drag queen voices to fill the space in the scene changes and move the play on timewise over the Mardi Gras period. So, onto the cast and first, in case my words above have worried you, yes the boys are buff and yes they take their shirts off on occasion – but only when it is artistically essential to the plot. Of the six actors, all are really talented but my stand-out performers of the night were Ethan Chapples, Lucas Livesey, and Hannah Vesty as Garth, Max and Pam respectively. Ethan and Lucas work so well together that is is possible to imagine them as best mates outside of the theatre as well. They give this fantastic impression of two men who know each other well and have that freedom to say whatever they want, whenever they want to each other. Lucas, in particular, has a lovely way of delivering put-downs that would reduce me to a tearful wreck in the corner. But, and this is the important bit, as Max’s own story unfolds, you get to see another side of the character and he becomes a vulnerable person with a heart and feelings and at times, I just wanted to run on the stage and give him a hug. Hannah was ultimately my favourite. Being the only woman in an all-male play where the majority of the audience are gay men is, I would imagine hard work, but Hannah totally owns the stage and the audience as we follow her story through to its conclusion – possibly ending up with me having a tiny tear in my eye by the end.

Overall then Bitches Down Under is a really well-written, directed and acted play full of humour and fun. My companion, who is from Perth WA loved all the Aussie references – though he was a bit ‘sus’ about Scott’s accent at times and the two of us had a brilliant evening, not only being taken down under by the team but also finding out the most mind-blowing fact about “Neighbours” you can ever hear. All told, it’s cold, you’re miserable and broke, just forget it and get your thrusters set to take you to Mardi Gras in the heart of Vauxhall, and I guarantee you will enjoy the ride.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Oil on the Factor 30 as we engage the thrust and prepare to go down under!
From the team that brought you the outrageous Gran Canaria-set hit Alright Bitches! and nautical caper Bitches Ahoy!, Above The Stag Theatre is delighted to take you up the outback for Bitches Down Under!

Creative Team
Written by Martin Blackburn
Director – Andrew Beckett
Designer – Andrew Beckett
Lighting Designer – Jack Weir
Sound Designer – Andy Hill

Cast
Ethan Chapples, Lucas Livesey, Hannah Vesty, Grant Cartwright, Liam Nooney and Tom Mann
Bitches Down Under!
Runtime: 2 hours approx

Bitches Down Under
Above The Stag
Arch 17 Miles Street, Vauxhall, London SW8 1RZ
http://www.abovethestag.com/

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