The McNeil Project
The McNeil Project offers the chance to revisit a significant era of Australian Theatre History, in presenting two enlightening short plays that are set in prison cells of the 1970s. These works are written by Jim McNeil who himself was a convicted prisoner.
Production values are crisp and clean and the acting sincere and focused. Both plays are well written, intriguing depictions of destabilized and volatile power relationships.
In The Chocolate Frog two inmates deal with the introduction to their cell of a ‘new chum’ Kevin (Will Ewing) a young University Student. As Kevin becomes progressively more threatened by Shirker (Luke McKenzie) he becomes more opinionated and patronizing, risking life and limb.
The Old Familiar Juice, a more complicated and nuanced work, shows three prisoners imbibe in an illicit alcoholic concoction that triggers complex and destructive behaviors and unleashes the predatory sexual appetites of Bull (Kevin McKenzie). All three actors McKenzie, Cain Thompson as Stanley and Richard Bligh as the shrewd Dadda have moments of riveting excellence.
Times have changed and I realized I was viewing works I had seen many years before, through a psyche heavily affected by more recent works, such as films like The Boys, Animal Kingdom and Snowtown, that portray blood-curdling intimidation and inability to break patterns of behaviors of the type Jim McNeil wrote about.
On the night I attended there were some initial issues with vocal projection in Chocolate Frog, where all three actors seemed to be bouncing sound around in a way that made it difficult to catch exactly what was been said. Too much dialogue was being declaimed. Fortunately this problem did not bleed into the second play.
As the acting grows in subtlety and more subtext is discovered throughout the run these works should peak into very satisfying theatre.