A Hoax by Rick Viede.
Presented by La Boite Theatre Company. Directed by Lee Lewis.
Reviewed by Lucy Babbage
Rick Viede’s A Hoax is anything but ordinary. The stage play, the second from a truly talented young man, was the 2011 Griffin Award winner and it certainly lives up to the accolade – quick-witted and self-aware, it’s grounded and original and so very, very smart. Coupled with the direction of Lee Lewis and a supremely capable cast and crew, it’s easily the best small-scale production I have seen at Brisbane’s La Boite Roundhouse Theatre (or anywhere) for years.
The story is inspired by the controversy of the evermore prevalent literary deception – the road that leads an author there, the toil and sacrifice of the journey, and of course, the scrambling heartbreak once the secret is revealed. The program featured several bios of the authors who have come to infamy in recent years for their own literary hoaxes, mainly in the form of fabricated memoirs, including the likes of James Frey, Wanda Koolmatrie and JT LeRoy. The story follows through by delving, with insight and charm, into the desperation for recognition that seems to have led them there.
Viede’s play follows four characters as they navigate the web of deceit put into place by social worker and failed writer Anthony ‘Ant’ Dooley (Glenn Hazeldine). After several unsuccessful attempts at publishing his manuscripts, Ant falsifies a memoir and then pays young Indigenous woman, Miri Smith (Shari Sebbens) to pose as the author ‘Currah’ for publicity’s sake. Enter literary agent Ronnie Lowe (Sally McKenzie) and journalist Tyrelle Parks (a dazzling Charles Allen who steals every scene each time he opens his mouth) and you not only have a disaster begging to be set free, but a melting pot of accents and annunciation.
The work is layered – a meditation on fame and infamy, comparing the pursuit of success and the actual having of it to try to understand what pushes a person, a good person, to this level of dishonesty. And we can’t help but sympathise. Indeed Tyrelle, in a fit of praise after meeting ‘Currah’ for the first time voices this notion out loud – “We relate… I relate… We all relate to you.” Because pain feels both intensely personal and yet so public, whether it is grand like ‘Currah’s’ ordeal in the cellar, or smaller, like Ant’s lack of success, Ronnie’s wind-down from prominence to obscurity, Miri’s desire for something much bigger and better, or Tyrelle’s struggle to reconcile his sexuality and personality in a hateful world.
It is difficult to find fault in this ensemble cast, each member of which steps into their turn in the spotlight with charisma, verve and spontaneity. Sebbens brings humour and warmth to her Miri/’Currah’, engaging and holding our attention from the moment she raps on Ant’s hotel room door. Hazeldine does an exceptional job with Ant, his moments in the latter acts bringing the show to darker places with raw emotion and the hilarity of drunken wit.
McKenzie is everything you expect from hyper-successful agent, Ronnie – show-no-fear confident, dripping with persuasive expletives and so affected. Allen as Tyrelle is a revelation. Find me another actor who can turn from a delightfully erratic drama queen to a foreboding, manic creep and still be beloved by the audience. This role feels built for Allen.
The set was minimal, stark white and perfectly placed to allow for the intensive back-and-forth of dialogue that Viede has penned. Most scenes are set in hotel rooms so just a double bed, a desk and a chair, and a cabinet with a mini-bar sit on a white projector sheet. The scene is set at the beginning of every act with neighbouring photos of the selected hotel room and a date adjustment that places us in the timeline of the story. This works very well to orientate the audience within a five-year ordeal that takes place in two hours.
Nothing in the scenery distracts from Viede’s speedy prose and Lewis’ inspired direction. Visually, the designers have created a space where we are expertly guided to the unfolding work before us. The costumes feel current and on-trend. The lighting design is artful, with the audience being plunged into complete darkness at times, the stage brightly lit in all of the ensemble scenes, and the embracing of the spotlight for individual monologues.
A Hoax is a very strong offering that looks at so many issues without blinking – truth, success, celebrity, race, sexuality, abuse and above all, desperation. It intelligently raises all of the questions that are so important in this culture and global climate, but it makes the decision not to answer them, and that’s an incredibly insightful one. The audience leaves charged, belly tight from laughter, thinking hard.
Seasons runs: 5 May – 26 May