Quack at the Griffin

I love the theatre in Nimrod Street, Darlinghurst, now known as the SBW Stables – it gave us Flash Jim Vaux and Hamlet on Ice, Gloria Dawn in  A Hard God and Reg Livermore in The Tooth of Crime, John Bell’s productions of Measure for Measure and The Removalists. It’s the kind of intimate theatre where Jane Harders as a loose woman from early colonial Sydney could proposition a nerdy young man in the front row and have that young man fall in love with her forever. When the Nimrod moved out, I followed them to Belvoir Street, though I have seen any number of good things at the Stables in the intervening years. I didn’t see Holding the Man there, but I wish I had because it was obviously intended for a more intimate space than the Drama Theatre in the Opera House

We expected to be the oldest people in the audience for Griffin Theatre’s Quack last night. The publicity mentioned zombies, and surely zombies are for the young. But no, the 22-person audience was as silver-haired as Belvoir Street on a Sunday afternoon.

There were signs in the recently refurbished foyer, warning of strong language and ‘DEPICITONS OF ILLNESS’. Just before the curtain at the foot of the stairs was pulled aside for us to ascend, a young man invited us to sit as close to the front as we wanted, but to be aware that during the graphic depictions (not depicitons after all) of illness, bodily fluids would be sailing around the space … all water soluble so nothing really to worry about. We sat two rows from the front; some less brave souls sat in the very back row.

Aimee Horne as Fanny, complete with creepy contact lens

The show itself? I don’t think I can do better than the description on the Griffin web site: ‘a romantic historical western drama noir exploitation comedy. With zombies.’ I would add, though, that there are musical interludes, beautifully sung by Aimee Horne, and a strong satiric thread. As everybody knows, zombies must never be read as symbolic. A zombie is a zombie is a zombie. But when you have the old doctor in a town saying he just wants everyone to be relaxed and comfortable, and the young doctor who seeks to replace him singing the praises of hard work and then delivering enraged diatribes involving copulating rats, you begin to realise that the non-undead characters have intentional similarities to actual politicians.

Most of the actual zombie action happens offstage (hard to do the Zombie Apocalypse with just four actors), and though there was much that was gruesome, most of it was described rather than enacted, and what was enacted was mostly comical. I confess there were a couple of non-zombie scenes when I had to close my eyes and control my gag reflex. But the couple of splashes of fluid that landed in my hair didn’t worry me at all.

This show could have been a disaster. Instead, as far as my companion and I are concerned it was a great success. And neither of us is particularly drawn to zombie movies (though we did both love Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead on DVD). It felt like a chaotic romp, but playwright Ian Wilding, twice winner of the Patrick White Prize, clearly knew what he was doing. Director Chris Mead and the cast – Jeanette Cronin, Charlie Garber, Chris Haywood, Aimee Horne –  get the silly-OTT mode just right. The set – red velvet curtains and a dangerously sloping wooden floor – and the howling sound design are brilliant.

It’s only on for another week. It deserves more than 22 bums on the seats each night. More than 22 people a night deserve to have this much fun . If you’re in town, go!

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