REVIEW: STRANGERS IN BETWEEN (Kings Head Theatre) ★★★★

Strangers In Between is enticing, inviting and impulsive and, at the same time, it has more laughs than almost anything else currently in the West End. It is grossly potty mouthed and, at times, over explicit, but oh so funny. It is something of a guilty pleasure and not something for children or your maiden aunt.

Strangers in Between is an Australian play, written in two acts, by Australian playwright Tommy Murphy. The play won the 2006 NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Best Play. It was first staged at Sydney’s Griffin Theatre Company in 2005, where it broke box office records. This play’s European premiere was held at the Kings Head Theatre last year.

Tommy Murphy’s play looks at the way gay men interact when forming relationships. Country boy Shane is new to city living and is innocent of city ways. Everything is strange to him and threatening. He needs to establish a pattern of living which will provide him with both physical security and emotional support and so enlists the help of Will and Peter.

Young Shane at first hides the fact that he is only sixteen years old and that he has run away from home in small town Australia in order to escape bullying by his homophobic brother Ben. Shane looks for anonymity in the, notoriously gay, Kings Cross area of Sydney in the early 2000’s, working in a grog shop (off licence in British parlance). It is in this grog shop, that Shane meets his two friends.

The two men that Shane is lucky enough to run into are from the Sydney gay community, and are both genuinely sympathetic and happy to provide the emotional support that Shane desperately seeks. They guide Shane through his personal crises with patience, humour and gay sex. The play may have a somewhat over optimistic view of the Sydney gay community, but it is a view that is eloquently expressed.

Roly Botha who plays Shane is an excellent and confident young actor in whom you totally believe. Shane’s character is complex in that he is both bright and attractive but also infuriatingly naive and needy. Roly shows the damaged side of Shane’s character brilliantly. It should be noted that, unbelievably, this is Roly’s professional theatre debut.

Stephen Connery-Brown’s is utterly credible as Peter, the witty, worldly wise, older gay man who is both funny and endearing. Stephen is an experienced theatre actor having appeared in many Shakespeare’s plays including King Lear, Richard II and The Merchant of Venice.

Dan Hunter is a charismatic, experienced and versatile actor. He plays two roles, one being Shane’s damaged, bullying brother Ben and the other his caring, sometime lover Will. You may think that playing both parts could confuse the audience but the two characters are delineated by Ben wearing a red baseball cap. Simple but surprisingly effective.

The play has a serious, dramatic plot but is told in a fine humorous way. The dialogue is very mature and very literate.

This seriously comic play is a thoughtful, entertaining, work and is, in my opinion, set to become a classic piece of Australian literature. Please, see it if you can. You will not be disappointed and you might be able to claim to be among the first people to acknowledge a new important piece of literature in the English Language, and to recognise with Roly Botha, a new very fine actor in the making.

Reviewed by Graham Archer
Photo: Andreas Grieger

Strangers In Between plays at the Kings Head Theatre until 4 February 2017