Ray Chong Nee.

Brynn Loosemore and Errol Henderson.


The Possibilities, by Howard Barker

Sidetrack Theatre, Marrickville | Until 28 August

Kate Gaul, one of Sydney theatre’s most respected hands, has set a cracking standard in her inaugural season as Artistic Director for Sidetrack Theatre, a pretty basic space that occupies a tin shed in Marrickville’s vibrant Addison Road Centre.

I didn’t see her season opener, Chekhov’s The Seagull, which she directed under the auspices of Siren Theatre, a company she helped found in 1998, but another of our reviewers, Sandra Bowden, certainly enjoyed the experience (READ REVIEW).

I found her second offering — Under Milkwood, Zoe Norton Lodge’s one-woman rendition of the Dylan Thomas epic — an absolute revelation and rated Norton Lodge the discovery of the year so far (READ REVIEW).

Hence, when I heard that Gaul was positioning Englishman Howard Barker’s The Possibilities as the centrepiece of her inaugural season, I relished the prospect.

Barker is a prolific playwright who loves nothing better than to challenge and confront, and classifies his work as ‘Theatre of Catastrophe’, whose tenets include: “The audience cannot grasp everything, nor did the author”; “The critic must suffer like everyone else”; and “The audience is divided and goes home disturbed or amazed”.

While I didn’t think of myself as suffering during The Possibilities, I certainly didn’t grasp everything that was presented. And, yes, I went home amazed and disturbed by the complexity and depth of the play.

It’s actually a series of 10 vignettes rather than a pay in its conventional sense, though themes of war, extreme violence, repression, perversion and sexuality reappear. There is humour, though it’s mainly dark humour.

Kate Gaul has trawled Australia’s theatrical talent and landed a very talented, mostly young, team headed by a quartet, yes quartet, of directors — Justine Campbell. Marcel Dorney, Travis Green and Fiona Hallenen-Barker.

They admit that the adage of too many cooks spoiling the broth was never too far away, and they’ve obviously paid great heed to ensuring that the pot they’ve been “simmering” yields only complementary flavours.

To that end they’re supported by some wonderful acting from Jacinta Acevski, Jonathan Brand, Ray Chong Nee, Errol Henderson, Sophie Kelly, Brynn Loosemore, Gabrielle Scawthorn and Jane E Seymour, who share a multiplicity of roles in 10 scenes that flow into each other quite seamlessly.

I won’t try to grade the performers, but I will nominate a couple of favourite scenarios.

One has Ray Chong Nee as a bookseller in a highly thought-policed world, trying almost as hard not to sell as to sell. The other, Jonathan Brand as a torturer seeking lodgings and trying to convince the landlady’s fawning son (Brynn Loosemore) that his future lay in becoming a flatterer.

This is fine, provocative theatre and I look forward immensely to see what Kate Gaul chooses to deliver next. The possibilities, if not endless, seem at least to cover a large, fertile field.