Australian gay drama Strangers in Between is revived in a sweet production at the Golden Goose Theatre
“Friends do this sort of thing all the time”
The world moves quickly for everyone, so even when Tommy Murphy’s 2005 play Strangers in Between was first seen in London in 2016, it was already depicting something of a time gone by. A further seven years down the line, Adam Spreadbury-Maher is reviving the drama once again, this time at Camberwell’s Golden Goose Theatre and whilst it is even more of a period piece on the one hand, its enduring message of queer love in all its forms resonates as powerfully as ever.
Set in the Kings Cross area of Sydney (now far more gentrified than its rough-edged depiction here), young and inexperienced Shane has fled his troubled family life in his rural hometown. Having lucked his way into a job at an off-license from where he can contemplate and cruise his clientele, he learns slowly how to build the connections that are missing in his life, from friends to fuck-buddies to family (of the chosen kind), finding a new home in this queer community.
It’s a sweetly observed play, described as a sex comedy but hitting on more emotional truth than that genre might suggest. Shane brings with him a real puppyish enthusiasm, but evidently more of the XL bully kind as he also carries some deep-rooted internalised homophobia which threatens to jeopardise his efforts to explore his sexuality. Stage debutant Alex Ansdell is superb as he evokes the rumbling volcano of Shane’s teenage energy but also his questing drive to establish this new life for himself.
Stephen Connery-Brown returns to the role of the deeply kind Peter, the gay elder to whom Shane gravitates, and has great fun with the waspish edge of his humour which just about veneers the sadness he is experiencing. Matthew Mitcham – a gold medal-winning Olympic diver in his time – has a tougher job in the dual role of Ben and Will (Shane’s violent brother and well-bicepped object of lust respectively), proving stronger in the characterisation of the latter and needing perhaps to differentiate just a touch more to make the former really resonate.
This LAMBCO production does make a strong case for this revival though. The detail of David Shields’ design – working taps, a bath with actual water in it, sandwiches made with a pleasing amount of mustard – draw us deeply into this world. And even if I could do without the interval, the chemistry and connection between the company proves beyond doubt that there’s no substitute for the succour drawn from knowing there’s a community there for you.