A Hoax, by Rick Viede | Directed by Lee Lewis

Griffin Theatre Company & La Boite Theatre Company | Stables Theatre, Darlinghurst, Sydney | Until 1 September

A Hoax, by Rick Viede, is a daring new Australian work coproduced by La Boite and Griffin, and inspired by the recent popularity of modern celebrity and publications such as A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey. The premise is literary fraud in the form of a memoir by an aspiring author, Anthony Dooley (Glenn Hazeldine).

The action commences in a hotel room where Anthony is paying a young woman, Miri Smith (Shari Sebbens), for services unknown. We think prostitution, but when Ronnie Lowe (Sally McKenzie) enters the scene we know we are wrong. It is prostitution of a different kind. Miri has contracted to act as if she has written Anthony’s memoir of sexual exploitation, entitled Nobody’s Girl. From this point onwards she assumes the persona of Currah, an abused Aboriginal girl.

Shari Sebbens handles her complex role with expertise, as she takes the character of Currah from the unsophisticated country girl to the confident motivational speaker in the second act.

As the mild-mannered, middle-aged, social worker, Ant, Hazeldine is understated and convincing in his depiction of a frustrated writer who has written a novel from the point of view of a poor indigenous girl who has suffered appalling childhood abuse by her father.

Charles Allen is solid in his Australian stage debut as the colourful, camp assistant to Ronnie, although somewhat over-the-top as the heavy-drinking, money-grabbing agent in the opening scenes but becomes more genuine as the play progresses.

The dialogue is sharp and ultra-realistic, which elucidates the motivations of the characters as well as the coercion and opportunities that they perceive in this power struggle. Lee Lewis directs with self-assurance and establishes a snappy pace which maintains the tension but also finds the humour which is wry and slow to reveal itself. We wince and smile almost simultaneously.

Renee Mulder’s inventive, sparse, white set evokes the basic hotel room with projection screens on two walls, which immediately immerse us in place and also denote time passing — ‘One year later’, etc.

Steve Toulmin’s audio-visual elements, sound and musicscape heighten the mood of this unsettling  and confronting satire on the politics of cultural identity, celebrity and media sensationalism.

This affecting tale about identity, indigenous stories and people pretending to be other than they are is certainly deserving of the prestigious 2011 Griffin Award. Thumbs Up!