It takes a show of some power to overcome the buzz-kill of a Monday evening, Covid-safe performance in a Roslyn Packer Theatre limited to an audience of less than 150.
This premiere production of Angus Cerini’s knotty exercise in storytelling does so by the skin of its not inconsiderable teeth.
Drawing on a true – and still unsolved – murder story that gripped Victoria a century ago, Cerini has fashioned a serpentine campfire yarn delivered by two men, bushman and postie Harry Smith (played here by Hugo Weaving) and Rigall (Wayne Blair), a stockman.
Arriving at Wonnangatta Station, the men discover a starving dog and a shallow grave beside a creek. A skull stripped of its flesh peeps out above the ground. Smith determines to find the killer – he reckons he has a pretty good idea who it might be – and the pair set off on a perilous journey into the high country.
Cerini’s script – equal parts Beckettian and Lawsonesque – is evenly parcelled out between the two men and each actor brings a distinctive set of colours to the prose, with Blair’s Rigall slowly emerging as a Sancho Panza to Weaving’s Quixotic Smith.
The two actors perform on a rough, fan-like stage (designed by Jacob Nash, lit by Nick Schlieper). There’s no need for anything else in terms of scenery. Cerini’s script takes care of that and Weaving and Blair take good care of the words they speak. Their delivery is dense with varying tones and textures.
There are flashes of humour woven into the story, but I suspect it needs an audience approaching critical mass in order for this play to elicit the chuckles it deserves. The relaxation of Covid-19 regulations in coming days, allowing for 50 per cent capacity – an audience of over 400 in this case – might allow those sparks to fly higher than they did on this occasion.