Review: A Hoax – La Boite and Griffin Theatre Companies

It’s not often that Brisbane sees a ‘world premiere, but the recent partnership of La Boite and Griffin means that Brisbane audiences ar e the first in the world to see Rick Viede’s new play A Hoax. It’s a privilege for which I think audiences will be extremely grateful.

It’s the premise of the play that steals the show for me. Anthony Dooley (Glenn Hazeldine) is a middle-aged white man, and a struggling writer. Anthony pens a beautiful and brutal memoir titled Nobody’s Girl. The only issue is that it’s not his. It’s the memoir of a fictional indigenous woman called ‘Currah’. Anthony employs an enthusiastic indigenous girl, Mirri, (Shari Sebbens) to play the role of Currah, and sets about fooling literary agents, publishers, and eventually, the world. Hilarity and disaster ensue.

Rick Viede’s playwrighting success has been meteoric. His first play, Whore, picked up several awards and toured internationally. A Hoax is his second play, but it is not the work of an immature or inexperienced writer. The satire here is razor sharp and disturbingly true. Viede leaves nothing at the door. There are discussions and debates on everything: the media, truth, identity, sexuality, gender politics, and race. It’s refreshing and smart, and deliberately thought-provoking. In the interval, my partner and I fiercely debated the character’s motivations and morality. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so engaged in the ideas that a play presents.

Viede weaves a complicated web. A brash but damaged publisher (Sally McKenzie) and her flamboyant assistant (Charles Allen), make up a tight four hander. Viede’s brilliant one-liners and beautifully structured scenes are slightly compromised by a slightly dislocated structure overall. The play spans over four years, and character’s motivations and attitudes jump quite spectacularly. Sometimes this is unclear. It’s a lot to ask of the actors. Glenn Hazeldine, playing the ‘real’ author, masters these difficult transitions with ease. The character of Anthony Dooley is asked to rise and fall and rise again. In the hands of a lesser performer, the character of Anthony could be alienating or unlikeable, but Mr Hazeldine’s performance is seamless and compelling.

Sally McKenzie’s performance of the publisher is funny and memorable, and will only grow in the weeks to come. In Currah, Rick Viede has written a theatrical rarity: a complex and contemporary indigenous female character. For this, he must be thanked. Ms Sebbens performs her well, and is strongest in her most vulnerable moments, which arise unexpectedly. Charles Allen has the most difficult journey to travel with his character, but his delivery of the climactic scene is compelling and drew the audience to the edge of their seats.

The director, Lee Lewis, architects the musicality of each scene beautifully. The unexpected climax is particularly stunning. The set, a gleaming and anonymously blank hotel room, is cleverly designed by Renee Mulder. Steve Toulmin, who provides music, sound and AV design, gives a life to scene transitions that keeps the engine of the piece motoring along. For me, the edgy rock soundtrack and slick scene changes were an absolute triumph. It’s an excellent collaboration between Toulmin and Lewis. Jason Glenwright‘s lighting is subtle and incredibly well-conceived.

If you like your theatre raw, book your tickets early. The opening night performance at times felt incredibly fresh and live. There were quite a few hiccoughs along the way, and it seemed a few of the actors occasionally lost their footing. However, a few performances will see the dust settle, and the ensemble will find their groove. This is a great show for senior high school students who don’t mind the occasional swear word, and you could even take your slightly trendy and politically interested parents. A Hoax manages to be both blackly dark and beautifully comic at the same time. For this, and its ideas, it will no doubt have a long and fruitful future.

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David Burton

Playwright, podcast producer.