This is the first play I have seen that is a part of B-sharp this year.

This is the first (and only) New Australian work included in the B-sharp’s first half of 2010 season. It has taken 4 years to write- and was commissioned after Jonathan Gavin won the Philip Parson’s award for Moment on the Lips- which enjoyed much acclaim at Darlinghurst Theatre. I have deep admiration for Jonathan Gavin’s writing- those who saw Tiger Country at Griffin know the power and terror of Gavin’s realism. They know his slick wit and his big heart. They know him for his structural perfectionism- his dialogue… I will now declare my hand: I know Jonathan Gavin somewhat- I know him as sweet and aloof, charming and calm- I have worked with him in 2 different incantations in the last 7 years- I am facebook friends with him- but not “share recipes/ call in times of crisis” type friends. I have long admired his writing. Having said this, I had no idea what to expect of Bang…

Every so often a play comes along and knocks you sideways. Takes your breath away and you are left winded by the feeling that your heart just grew too big too fast. You are silent because you are frightened and in awe. You have been transported and your mind reconfigured. It happened for me with Andrew Bovell’s “When the Rain Stops Falling” and it has happened again with Jonathan Gavin’s “Bang.”

The review below is really an extended out pour of response- and not my best piece of review work- but it’s honest. I didn’t want to churn out the plot and rattle off the names of all involved- I just want you to see it- and I want to sit in the ideas and the feelings of this play. I nearly don’t even want to discuss it. But I will defend it- especially up against Jason Blake’s SMH review which he says ” In Gavin’s program note, he acknowledges the difficulty he faced in writing it, and at times the strain is apparent.” I utterly disagree. I think this is not apparent in this production. I think Gavin has handled the quantity of characters, themes, locations, time periods, beautifully- and for me it wasn’t a fraught experience. It is a dense and unpretentious work- and easy to embrace as it is beautifully structured.

I must mention my complete disappointment that this production was not given a main stage slot. Not just at Belvoir- but anywhere. This is a big play. An important play full of huge and brilliant observations. Why is this play relegated to the “Independent” realm? This play needs a big production- not to say that this is at all diminutive or to say that me mentioning it’s status as an independent production is at all in any way pejorative- what I am saying is- the main stage companies should be nurturing, promoting and producing the best Australian work- the Best new Australian work. It should be exposing it to large audiences- not in 80 seat venues- in venues with hundreds of seats. This is one of the best new Australian plays I have ever seen. Why is it that happens? Brink had to do it- take all the risk for When the Rain Stops Falling. And here we are with Kim Hardwick as the champion and long term collaborator of Jonathan Gavin.

I urge you to see this play.

And if you are Kristina Keneally- you DEFINITELY need to see this play. It is sure to be counted amongst the great plays of the Australian canon.

First published on

A romantic image of travel and domesticity: brown cardboard suitcases, a basket of unfolded laundry, stacks of newspapers tied with straw coloured rope surrounded by pale yellow rose buds litter the stage. Six actors line up against a back wall of mirrors- like that of a police interrogation. It begins…

Direct address from an ensemble of actors. An exploration of the art of story, narratology. An introduction to a story- a preamble to prepare and a proposition. This soft, self-aware entry into this play is well understood in Australian theatre- it is a start which opens up a large world- a reassurring voice which asks us to listen, to engage- to embrace the structure the tone, the forms as they are presented. This voiced start which examines its own sense of starting- its own voice- its own sense does not patronize but prepare us. This is a play of heightened theatricality: a simple static stage design and shape-shifting/voice shifting actors for this exploration of transmogrification, evolution, enlightenment.

A nun, a drag queen and a pregnant woman stand on a train station platform. United by the promise of a 6:45pm train. Sounds like the premise of a joke- and the play will declare that to you – just as you make the connection. This isn’t a joke but a reality which seems unlikely yet conceivable. We see the moments which lead them to this place. This time. We see the things that link them- a bag, a book, a gun. Waiting is filled with numbed expectation- time moves on as they stand motionless. We are told what they notice. A nun reads a subscriber only erotic fiction. A drag queen tells the story of his drag bag. A pregnant woman tells the tousle of transport with her protective husband. A young woman enters the railway station, on a holy mission. In one moment everything is changed utterly.

Jonathan Gavin’s script is simply, incredible. Tightly woven are the stories of migrant families, religious identities, domestic relationships, sexual politics, science, philosophy, history, literature… into twenty-one characters played by six actors- who span ages, roles, ethnicities, faiths, sexual persuasions. It forms a rich contemporary portrait- like that of the Bayeux tapestry of the political/religious war which is waged in the world. This war is not the one of sand and snipers- and exit strategies. There is something more terrifying than this. The war in this play is worse- the silent terror of our own thoughts and beliefs and the actions they invoke.

Beautifully crafted scenes in which it is impossible to remain loyal to any one character- Gavin has exposed the fragility and the violence in us as a nation. What is truly disturbing and enlightening about this production is the realisation that the most brutal of our destructive tendencies come from a place of love, hope and idealism. Everything that needs to be said about our understanding of religious extremism- of guilt- of love – of blame- of anger- or human ugliness- of righteousness- is said in an honest, breathtakingly beautiful way.

Kim Hardwick’s direction is taut, masterfully handling the tender heart and the rigorous mind of this play- and is perfectly paced and beautifully balanced. The ensemble of actors- Blazey Best, Caroline Brazier, Ivan Donato, Tony Poli, Wendy Stehlow and Damien Rice are impeccable as they wing and transform between perpetrator and victim- from victim to monster. No one outshines – they illuminate each other in what is an exquisitely cohesive ensemble experience: drawing to the fore the message of unity and our connectedness through our human experience.

Many playwrights have tried to write this play- tried to say what it is saying- tried to ask of us what it is asking- but it is Jonathan Gavin has succeeded with Bang. This is one of the most moving, beautiful, important, tender, remarkable, intelligent, perfect plays of contemporary Australian theatre and must be seen because it will at once elevate, interrogate, inspire our understanding of the world and each other.