REVIEW: BITCHES DOWN UNDER! (Above The Stag) ★★★★
January 22, 2018  //  By:   //  Plays, Reviews  //  Comments are off

The third instalment of Martin Blackburn‘s ‘Bitches!’ trilogy, centred around our three favourite friends: Garth, Max and Pam, lands explosively back at Above The Stag, this time taking us with them Down Under, to Sydney.

After the previous instalments of ‘Alright, Bitches!’ and ‘Bitches Ahoy!’ we rejoin some familiar faces as they enjoy a week celebrating Mardi Gras, with turbulence in sight from the offset. Our beloved Garth (Ethan Chapples) is set to marry his new love, Drew (Liam Nooney), though their compatibility appears to be in question, made more problematic with the re-emergence of Ollie (Grant Cartwright), a blast from the past. Meanwhile, our dear Max (Lucas Livesey) is this time working on a beachfront bar, still retaining his fantastic Squidward-esque sarcasm and looking on (with eyebrows raised) as his friends make their questionable life decisions. The vivacious Pam (Hannah Vesty) finds herself once again determined to swear-off men and enjoy her time abroad, but the charms of budgie-smuggling Scott (Tom Mann) lead to an unsuspecting climax.

Blackburn’s writing is brilliantly balanced: obviously there’s oodles of comedy in the form of deliciously camp one-liners, the occasional song and dance interlude (thank you, Pam) and an abundance of culturally-charged jokes, but a surprisingly authentic injection of poignant, heart-felt emotion and relatable life situations. We have Max’s underlying childhood trauma of being abandoned by his father, now facing the possibility of building some kind of relationship with him again – this is some remarkably intense content and, I think, delicately handled by Blackburn’s commentary and Lucas Livesey’s performance. Equally, the content delves into the deeper struggles of a relationship pre-matrimony, struggling to decide if they are making the right choice, plus an insight into a young man’s difficulty in finding his place in the gay community. Indeed, Grant Cartwright’s performance as Ollie, deeply honest and philosophical about his pursuit of a meaningful relationship amongst a sea of non-committal flings, was both believable and heartfelt. On the surface, the ‘Bitches!’ trilogy might appear to be just a bit of fun, but it produces many thought-provoking themes that affect the gay community and beyond, regarding commitment, personal loss and the search for a meaningful identity.

The sets at Above The Stag are always innovative and eye-catching, and this Australian beach setting was no exception. Andrew Beckett and team have done a fantastic job with economical space, managing to create an authentic sand-between-toes, festival atmosphere with half the stage a bar and the other a fun-filled, deckchair-laden beach. I adored the sound effect of “Get off the f***in’ sand!” whenever an audience member accidentally strayed on to the stage, and the action moves at a good pace throughout, with busy, stage-full scenes sandwiched between quieter, one-on-one scenes to build action and thicken the plot gradually. The script’s toe-curling banter is utterly accessible, as it’s the kind you would share between your closest friends in your living room over a glass or five or wine, and Hannah Vesty absolutely shines every time she steps on stage – I couldn’t imagine a ‘Bitches’ production without this firecracker of a character.

Everything Above The Stag puts on is great – they simply don’t put on anything that isn’t entertaining and well-executed; rarely can you find a theatre and creative team that cares this much about the work they present to their audience. If you want a warm welcome, talented actors, excellent sound and visuals, then look no further: go Down Under with the Bitches.

Reviewed by Laura Evans


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