Unmarked Theatre‘s Mis$fortune takes them back to familiar ground, as explored in their previous show Defreist. Both focus on tragic real stories, and this time it’s that of devout Christian and family man Billie-Bob Harell Jr (Matthew Metcalfe), the lucky – or as we discover, rather unlucky – winner of $31 million on the lottery.
The play is nicely framed by Billie-Bob’s funeral (I did say unlucky!), because as we find out, winning all that money becomes a curse rather than a gift. We get a cursory look at his life prior to his numbers coming up, painting him as a lover of country, church and family, before diving into how it all changes and falls apart as everyone learns of his bank balance.
The play makes a good effort to be sympathetic to Billie-Bob’s plight, never suggesting what happens is due to anything other than misfortune and circumstance. We glimpse the pressures money brings; the constant ringing of the home phone and the increasingly curt replies to family members, making it clear everyone wants a little piece of his fortune. But the real problem is that it’s all a little superficial. We jump too quickly from seeing Billie-Bob as a simple family man to one in conflict with his relatives, spending his time drinking and having an affair. It means we never really get to know Billie-Bob in any depth, and so never feel any connection. It’s a shame because the tragic conclusion should leave us despairing for his poor soul. It’s this disconnect that means this fun show never quite crosses from good to great.
But it is undoubtedly fun. The emphasis on it being a “play with songs” by writer and director Aaron-Lee Eyles makes perfect sense, allowing him to experiment with content and style. Robert Hardie’s songs add colour and humour to proceedings, although the music could do with a little less volume to allow voices to be better heard. And then quirky moments take us away from a standard narrative, such as actors portraying competing shop cashiers and tills. It’s a style Eyles wants to, and should be encouraged to, keep developing.
That playfulness extends to the cast as well, especially Thomas Crichton who excels in every role asked of him. His portrayal of all three of Billie-Bob’s children is fantastic as he frantically exits and re-enters the stage in quick succession, each time a different child. But it’s his chat show host that steals the limelight: obnoxious and completely over the top it screams American trash TV perfectly.
Linseigh Green’s lawyer/narrator helps keep things ticking, plus she adds an incredible singing voice to those musical interludes. At times you could happily have her as the only one singing, such is her vocal performance. Grace Price contributes well with her rotating roles, nailing accents to perfection. Weirdly, given that he is the central character, while Matthew Metcalfe does a solid job as Billie-Bob, he never quite owns what should be his story – perhaps an error in positioning his character as too subdued means he never really dominates the stage? This again may be a cause of that slight disconnect experienced.
Mi$fortune is an amazingly fun show, one absolutely worth your time. Eyles has a good eye for an interesting story and a style that makes the real become ever so slightly surreal. So, whilst I yearned for a little more depth at times, we do get a good taste of why winning the lottery might not all be that we dream it would be. There’s plenty here to turn this into a longer run that could give us the required depth and an even more fulfilling production.
Written and directed by: Aaron-Lee Eyles
Music by: Robert Hardie
Lighting Design by: Oliver McNally
Movement direction by: Zara Ramtohul Akbur
Produced by: Unmarked Theatre
Mi$fortune plays at Golden Goose Theatre until 22 April. Further information and bookings can be found here.