It is indeed wonderful to see ATYP embracing not only new Australian writing, but new Australian writing during the pre-Mardi Gras hub-bub of the Mardi Gras festival is fantastic. I had first heard of Daniel Hayward’s play Parkie in early 2010 when I was interviewing directors for The Stories from the 428 project and met with director David Koumans. He had told me about the 2009 run of Parkie at the Tap Gallery and I was impressed at the vision and energy for people to put on their own show – and a brand new work – no mean feat. Previously I had seen the work of Nathaniel Scotcher in two plays by Lachlan Philpott – Colder directed by Katrina Douglas (Griffin Theatre) and Catapult directed by Travis Green (New Theatre) and Mat Lynch had auditioned for me once upon a time and I had been impressed by his performance in the very same afore-mentioned production of Catapult. Also interestingly set in Clybucca (incidently where my father lived as a young boy – and near to my hometown – and again I was curious to see the commentary of country life). There is no question, I was keen to attend this passion project – which has had so much love and care invested in it – just finding the time has been tricky and finding the time to write significantly about it has been difficult as well. So I offer this as a post-show rumination on WOOF/Meow’s recent production as a means of offering genuine response and criticism to their work (as opposed to a hyped up media release) – which comes from my desire to see more of their work – and to see their work develop in years to come.

Adam (Nathaniel Scotcher) is a Parkie. Abandoned by his family – a father who left in the middle of the night and a mother who ran off with one of her gentlemen callers, Adam is now the resident handy/fix it man around the Clybucca Caravan Park. Some people are just visiting the park – stopping over night between departure and destination. Some are holiday makers who stay – but not for long. Adam is a Parkie – he lives there and that suits him just fine – he bothers no one and no one bothers him until an ex-army officer Jake moves into one of the caravans – and beguiles not only Brenda the 16-year-old daughter of the Park owners, but Adam. Before too long Adam’s friend Matt (Mat Lynch) who is fresh out of gaol for a crime he was unwillingly accomplice to arrives, with baggage of his own. Jake involves himself with both Brenda and Adam – leaving the park once he receives news of Brenda’s surprise pregnancy. There are intersecting love triangles – friendships cross boundaries – both gay and straight relationships are fraught and difficult – and the question seems to be: how do you not give into temptation, and what do you chose when you must chose between love and your own life/dreams.

This is a new play by Daniel Hayward and has had some development with the cast and director – but I am not sure who has assisted in the dramaturgy or development this piece – but there are a few questions I have about the script. The main issue I have with the script is the character of Jake – who seems to have very little going for him – in fact I have no reason to believe anyone would be attracted to him at all – he seems like a selfish predator/rapist, selfish and self-centred and without any tenderness – there is very little to like, so when he descends into his own hell we are left not really caring. I am not wholly convinced of the necessity of having to see the scene when Jake, Matt and Adam go to the rodeo – except to say it seemed to be there for the portrayal of rough gay sex – and in that moment it is hard to feel any sympathy/interest in Adam (our protagonist who is seemingly weak-willed when it comes to a gym-crafted body and disloyal to his friend Brenda). I’m not sure why Jake returns to the park and how/why he begins his ice addition and I’m not sure why Brenda’s attitude to her life (and pregnancy) is now more like that of a much older woman?

I particularly enjoyed the performance of Matt Lynch who subtly underscores his performance with as much subtext and internal life as possible for a character introduced late in the first half. Unfortunately I don’ think the material provided to Amy Correia is sophisticated enough to address the complexities of the teenage woman. Scotcher’s Adam is, to my ear, an exaggerated bumpkin with – and it’s hard to believe that Adam and Matt grew up in the same area. Matt Hopkins’ Jake is subtle (nearly non-acting) for the act one and over the top rage in act two – no deeper level – no subtext – what you see is what you get. I can’t help but wonder, if Jake never took his clothes off – would there be more intrigue, would there be a deeper level in the portrayal? Is the character of Jake objectified in the script as well as in the production? Refreshingly Matt (Mat Lynch) keeps his shirt on – and finds infinitely more mileage with his character.

As a production, it is hit and miss. Set design by Alistair Watts is well thought out – the frames of caravans let the audience peep inside and is on the whole functional and indicative – not too over the top and not too sparse. The astroturf is a little glossy and green for my liking – last time I was out in Clybucca it wasn’t as verdant, perhaps the rain has done it good and perhaps the age of the caravans could have been brought out more – a curiously tidy caravan for a young man who has lived in the caravan for his teenage/adult life thus far (without parental supervision). in some instances lighting by Christopher Page is distracting – but I think that may be a case of trying to differentiate spaces indicated in the script. Director David Koumans has achieved high-energy performances from his cast – somewhat too high in the case of Brenda in the first act – who seems to be playing 10 not 16 (the 16-year-olds I know and have worked with are sulky, aloof, believe themselves to be very sophisticated “adults” who put on airs of being 25) – but the simple technical aspect of directing the movement of actors on and off stage, is somewhat clumsy. Each scene is punctuated by extended blackouts, occasionally “covered” by music by unsigned Australian artists – Linda Milburn, The Battery Kids and The Pagan Collective which is inherently something I admire and endorse – but interrupts the pace of the over all production. The production itself has had a lot of thought and care invested in it – and it is impressive for a small and newish production company to be producing on this scale.

I heartily encourage WOOF/meow to continue their work – especially in investing in new work which seeks to offer more that the “regular themes portrayed in your run of the mill ‘queer plays.'” It is not an easy pursuit producing a play – let alone a new play, let alone a new queer themed play during Mardi Gras and I look forward to seeing what WOOF/meow come up with next – and next time I’ll be there opening night – and make sure a review comes out as soon as humanly possible. And I heartily encourage the community and the industry to get behind this fledgling company.