Occasionally the most powerful moments in the theatre can happen silently in in the dark listening to the breathing around you and the occasional sniff. Merciless Gods has one of these rare moments, at the end of a heartbreaking piece about families, friends and lovers.
In what starts out as an everyday occasion it is not until half way through the family gathering of Danny, his ex wife, his friend, his son and his son’s boyfriend that we realise what we are about to witness. The humour between the ex-partners, the tenderness of the old friend and the vulnerability of the son with the lovely supportive boyfriend not only highlights the best in us as human animals but also is extremely topical in light of assisted dying legislation currently being debated in Victoria. Powerful stuff.
Merciless Gods was published in 2014 as a collection of short stories, not all of them have made it to the stage. Dan Giovannoni has distilled the essence of the book into a selection of short theatrical pieces; a drug fuelled game of truth at a city high flyer’s dinner party ending in a story of atrocities; a mother cleaning up her son’s room, a man in prison, a destruction in a bath house, a girl confronting her alcoholic artist mother, a working class bloke choosing the end, a fringe dweller dreaming of a young man in a porn film and a mother watching gay porn of her dead son. Situations created to allow and unleash each individual’s capacity for violence and love.
Casting will always be challenging when presenting diverse voices in terms of age, sexuality and ethnicity. Little Ones Theatre has done well here following the current trend for cross gender casting as well as bending the age and ethnicity of the cast. Some roles fit better than others but the company is well balanced and gets to flex their strengths in multiple characters. Paul Blenheim is beautifully vulnerable as a down and out porn creature. Brigid Galacher excels as a frustrated academic daughter. Sapidah Kian brings her regal dynamism as an ambitious travel editor. Peter Paltos is soulfully shocking as a prisoner and Charles Purcell is deeply moving as a grieving son. Jennifer Vuletic is incredible in her complete transformation for each role; grief stricken Italian mother, self-absorbed alcoholic artist and wheelchair bound father at the end of his life. Her chameleon abilities are extraordinary.
Director Stephen Nicolazzo has done a lovely job of physically referencing the lofty religious iconography alluded to in the language, whilst also presenting intimate urban environments. The design by Eugyeene Teh, lighting by Kate Sketkidis and sound design by Daniel Nixon all combine to support this stripped back, dark, rich world. The curatorial decision to provide an evening of short works with basic scene transitions and conventional black outs between pieces segregates each story rather than allowing us to journey through the entire conversation. The overall style is very traditional and not what is to be expected from the high-camp frivolity of some of Little Ones Theatre previous work.
Christos Tsiolkas is a writer of considerable and well-deserved acclaim. His most widely read novel The Slap was long listed for the Booker prize, his film Head On won a swag of awards around the world and his collaborative writing work in the theatre includes the legendary Who’s Afraid of the Working Class. His work speaks openly and honestly of a particular suburban beauty and ugliness in which the human condition is both sublime and nefarious. And this is where Merciless Gods firmly sits – within the frame of the world seen through gay boys, Italian mothers, Greek fathers, Aussie lovers, young male feminists, jocks, pimps, martyrs, and lusty women.
Merciless Gods will make you smile, think, gag, shed a tear and possibly book a trip to Melbourne.
Fiona Hallenan-Barker : Theatre Now & On The Town
1 – 25 Nov 2017
Monday – Saturday 7pm
Saturday 4 & 11 November 2pm & 7pm
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre
Theatre Company: Little Ones Theatre and Griffin Independent
From migrant camps to pill-popping hipster dinner parties, from prison cells to gay saunas and porn shoots, Merciless Gods is a vicious and tender portrait of contemporary Australian society, capturing the haunting aspects of the human psyche.
Multi award-winning Christos Tsiolkas is one of the most significant writers in Australia. This first ever stage adaptation of his short story collection Merciless Gods takes you deep into worlds both strange and familiar, introducing you to characters who will never let you go and situations that will haunt you forever.
Told from diverse cultural perspectives—Greek, Italian, Turkish, English and Iranian—Merciless Gods by award-winning playwright Dan Giovannoni is urgent, dirty, glorious theatre.
“Little Ones Theatre have one of the most unique voices in Melbourne theatre.” – Sometimes Melbourne
Director Stephen Nicolazzo
Set & Costumer Designer Eugyeene Teh
Lighting Designer Katie Sfetkidis
Sound Designer Daniel Nixon
Dramaturg Chris Mead
Producer Jo Porter
With Paul Blenheim, Brigid Gallacher, Sapidah Kian, Peter Paltos, Charles Purcell, Jennifer Vuletic
Concession, Senior, Preview, Groups 8+ $30
Under 35 $30
Transaction fees of $4 for online bookings and $6 for phone bookings apply