He Died With a Felafel in his Hand

(Brisbane Arts Theatre)


The lights dim and the rolling drum beat of Richard Strausss “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (from 2001: A Space Odyssey) blares out of the speakers. Gasps of awe and amazement are heard as the curtains open to reveal, centre-stage, one massive joint.

As we bask in its glow the actors come out of the woodwork howling and screaming in a parody of Kubricks classic. As they approach the ridiculously big doobie, the music abruptly ends and is replaced by the thumping beat of TISMs classic “(Hell Never be an) Ol Man River” and a drug-fuelled party erupts on stage with the doomed nameless felafel eater overdosing in the middle of it all.

Not bad for the first four minutes. Over the next two hours, the protagonist John Birmingham (Shaun King) introduces the audience to the squalid life of share housing, showcasing some of the oddballs hes lived with, from the moon-tanning Peeping Tom to the work obsessed woman who refuses to leave her job although she was fired three months ago.

Jenna Saini is scarily good as the erratic business woman and Damien Campagnolo brings some of the biggest laughs as the masochistic MP caught out in the middle a dominatrix session by a current affairs program. Michael Fitzhywels character Popov is also memorable as the epitome of all the base desires of men falling in love with every scantily clad woman he sees and promising them all the herring in the world as a dowry.

Each character is unabashedly shown for who they are and scenes can become a little tense at times leaving you wondering if perhaps you shouldnt be laughing so hard. The play switches from hilarious to depressing a lot like a MASH episode; some scenes getting pretty serious for a comedy, touching on topics such as backyard abortions.

The script is rude, crude and so full of swearing that it would it make Guy Ritchie blush. Although its a recurring feature of the play, the foul language doesnt feel forced and helps the audience feel at ease. (Unless youre a prude, in which case youll probably leave the building five minutes after the bucket bong explanation.)

The work that has gone into adapting and updating John Birminghams cult book for the stage is tremendous. Simon Bedack, Steve Le Marquand and Michael Neaylon have intertwined pop culture references, musical breaks and action freezes that involve one of the characters stepping out of the scene to tell an anecdote directly to the audience. These stories generally have nothing to do with the main plot but instead act as background for each character giving the audience better insight of the actions.

Director Natalie Bochenski has not shied away from showing any indecency imaginable and has cast actors who execute her concepts with enthusiasm.

Nothing in this production is average or boring and the dance sequences are no exception. The choreography of the house-mates banding together to clean the house to Tchaikovskys “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” impressed me with its intricate choreography reminiscent of the “Sorcerers Apprentice” segment in Fantasia.

Keep a keen eye out for references to James Brown, Donnie Darko and even the Lucille Ball Show. These references dont draw much attention to themselves and Im guessing were included as in-joke for the geeks of the audience who could nudge their friends to proudly boast of their knowledge of pointless trivia.

This adaption of Birmingham’s original book is almost entirely different from the movie but I enjoyed it much more. The laughs are bigger and the nonsensical nature of the whole thing reminds me of a modern day adults only Alice in Wonderland. If you enjoy foul language and would like to delve into the drug-addled world of the decadent and depraved, then see this play.

— Rhys McRae
(Performance seen: Wed 25th March 2009)