Fairfax Studio, Melbourne (until April 4)
The Seed is a powerful play that delves into familial myths and the damage they can cause through generations.
Danny and daughter Rose have travelled from Geraldton, Western Australia, to Nottingham in England to visit Brian – Danny’s belligerent, IRA-supporting father.
The Maloneys are a dysfunctional bunch, to say the least.
The visit takes place on the same day as the trio’s shared birthday and Guy Fawkes celebrations in England.
Danny (Tony Martin) left for Australia decades ago and found that his youthful exuberance for a new homeland was diminished by conscription to Australia’s participation in the Vietnam war. He suffers ‘whiteouts’ from his contact with Agent Orange, the destructive herbicide used by the US military.
Rose, a failed journalist and budding writer, is lost and trying to find her own story. She feels she cannot do so without knowing her father’s and grandfather’s stories first so her Dictaphone, or “dickey phone” as Brian calls it, is always at hand.
The patriarch Brian (Max Gillies) has never stopped fighting for Ireland and ‘the cause’, this despite living in England for most of his life.
Kate Mulvany’s searing and honest portrait into her family’s antagonistic past is not new to Australian audiences.
Mulvany directed and acted in the role of Rose when she first brought it to the stage in 2007, which leaves Sara Gleeson with an unenviable task for this production. Without having seen Mulvany’s performance, it is hard to compare the two. Although it’s intended for Rose to be the prism through which we view much of the play’s events, she is somewhat overshadowed by her co-stars.
While Max Gillies brings the comedic touch he is known and loved for, it seems out of place in the character of Brian. He is as funny as he is cruel. There is a disconnect somewhere, in tone or audience perception. Strong belly laughs for a man who decries the presence of Pakis in Nottingham and boasts about murder was unusual.
Despite Mulvany telling us in the programme notes “it’s okay to laugh” it feels sometimes as though it is not.
On the face of it, Brian is contemptible in many ways. A bully. A supposed terrorist. Maybe Gillies’ likability just gets in the way.
But then again, Brian has some of the best lines in this play. Any expat familiar with the various contradictions inherent in living in one country and coming from another will laugh at Brian arguing his sons were picked on for being “Irish Catholic Notts Forest supporters”.
Tony Martin is outstanding as Danny. The physicality of his performance, the nuanced delivery of an Irish-English-Australian accent, his rapport with Rose and his sideways steps away from his father’s shadow are highlights of this production.
The opportunities for laughter decrease as the play progresses and there is an uneasiness that is built up to an explosive crescendo fitting of any Guy Fawkes night.
More is teased from Danny’s experiences in Vietnam as Brian’s years of ugly boasts prove to be nothing but dud fireworks.