"Warner's masterstroke is to make this unlikable protagonist vulnerable enough to provoke our pity."
"Fringe" can sometimes be a euphemism for "low rent". Not so for Lab Kelpie, which in my humble opinion is one of Australia's most exciting independent theatre companies on the rise. Not only is the delivery of this show as slick as a political spin doctor, this new text by Katy Warner is as assured as it is incisive.
Pitched as a television interview from a high ranking conservative, possibly even a hypothetical PM, it's a portrait of a career politician in full damage control mode. There's an element of candid honesty that suggests we might be tapped into an internal monologue, which makes the curdling rationalisations and clueless chauvinism even more intriguing. Bullish, inflexible newspeak is parroted by a well-trained disciple of the far right, albeit carefully coached and packaged to appeal to less polarised demographics.
Cliched soundbites are made double-edged as policy becomes personal. The discovery of a dead refugee toddler on a beach; an assaulted Muslim targeted for looking angry; a humiliated, dehumanised woman dismissed as having no sense of humour: these encounters take political posturing and puffed-up rhetoric and pass them through the prism of intimate experiences.
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Warner's masterstroke is to make this unlikable protagonist vulnerable enough to provoke our pity. He may be a mouthpiece for the contemptible conservative elite, but this fate is positioned as an inevitability of his unhappy upbringing. Lyall Brooks gives a performance deserving a far grander stage then the diminutive Rehearsal Room of North Melbourne's Arts House. He orates with Hitler-esque fervour and yet is able to muddle this political grandstanding with moments of thinly veiled desperation and even heartbreaking frailty. Every atom of his account is precisely judged, without a single falter or misstep in this brutally exposed hour-long performance. This is theatre at the very top of its game: complex, enlightening and thoroughly accomplished.
Lab Kelpie presents A Prudent Man at Arts House to 1 Oct. Part of the 2016 Melbourne Fringe.