12 years on, the debut play from now-staple British playwright Dennis Kelly has lost none of its fire, its relevance and its visceral impact. At least on the page. Brought to the Australian stage today, it is missing two key factors: the relevance of its geographic location, and the subtleties of its narrative, lost in a well-intended but cacophonous production.
Gary (Josh McElroy) has always been a weirdo, but this time, he’s gone too far. When he’s asked to make a presentation to his class on a personal hero, and chooses Osama bin Laden, he raises the suspicions of his neighbours. Someone’s been blowing up bins in the neighbourhood, and all eyes are on Gary…
Director Richard Hilliar’s predilection for British theatre (see 2013’s Scenes From An Execution) has finally led him to Kelly, and Osama is a timely choice. It so perfectly captures the irrationality and hysteria created by fear that it has audience members squirming in their seats, uncomfortable as much with the events unfolding in front of them as those outside the theatre.
Oddly, Hilliar has made no effort to relate the production to our context, meaning we must bear with British accents of varying quality. The extra work is superfluous – the cast would be more relatable without having to compromise just to sound accurate.
The character’s complexities and simple contradictions are what make them so compelling. Tel Benjamin overdoes Francis’ skinhead thuggishness, at first, but his transformation by the third act is deeply moving. Similarly, Lynden Jones finds a richness and variance within Mark that make him surprisingly magnetic for so alienating a character. McElroy’s Gary is a strange and engaging creature – the choice to put Gary on the spectrum is a natural one, which McElroy plays with sincerity and integrity.
The problem is that the entire production, from word one, is pitched at full volume, full intensity. Tooth And Sinew, true to its name, makes gutsy and intense productions, but without variance, layering or delicacy it is merely playing at King Lear, roaring into the storm. Three clearly delineated acts are yelled and rushed through in the same manner, leaving little time to let the powerful emotions of the play’s most affecting moments set in.
In the staging, as well, there are far too many elements at play. The effort to keep our darting eyes interested distracts from the moment at hand – when one character speaks, three others perform tasks that demand to be watched. How can we possibly stay glued to such frenetic, discombobulated motion?
Osama The Hero is an astonishing play that everyone should see, even if the hammer that Tooth And Sinew took to it has knocked loose some of its teeth.
Osama The Hero was reviewed at Kings Cross Theatre on Tuesday January 24.