The intimate space of the Golden Goose theatre brings a new revival to London. Strangers in Between is a modern Australian classic. On its debut in 2005 Tommy Murphy’s script won awards and broke box office records in Sydney.
After being beaten up by his older brother who found him with another boy, Shane (Alex Ansdell) has run away from home. Lost and alone in the big city, he chats away to the customers of the Bottle-O, the off-licence where he has just started working. Shane exudes a delightful blend of naivety and earnestness; he is more than happy to offer his help to find a nice chardonnay – either red or white! Shane’s innocent ‘fish out of water’ demeanour, with some unfiltered candour, supplies a lot of early laughs and his effortless charm allows the audience to easily connect. This is Ansdell’s professional debut, but you would not know that from his performance. Beyond his charm, he masterfully portrays Shane with a palpable sense of longing – one that extends far beyond mere desire for physical intimacy; also seeking connection and family.
Through the job he meets Will (Matthew Mitcham), a slightly older and definitely more experienced man. Will has an initial aura of indifference and coolness but Mitcham nicely shows that beneath this facade, he has a genuine fondness and concern for the younger and less experienced Shane. A casual line about Will’s swimming skills brings extra laughs in this production as Mitcham is himself an Olympic gold medallist diver! Shane also meets Peter (Stephen Connery-Brown), a much older man, who slowly takes on an almost parental role. Remarkably, Connery-Brown played Peter in three previous revivals in London so his familiarity and ease with the role really accentuates the character’s own life experience and weariness.
Strangers in Between takes a darker turn as Shane’s brother Ben (also portrayed by Mitcham) manages to locate him in Sydney. The ensuing conflict captures Ben’s complex feelings – love for his brother tinged with a deep hatred of Shane’s homosexuality. This propels Shane even closer to the unconventional family he has found with both Will and Peter.
The set by David Shield, complemented throughout by sympathetic lighting from Richard Lambert, initially looks simple yet contains hidden depths, transforming to a lovely reveal for a touching final scene. Strong direction from Adam Spreadbury-Maher brings out excellent comic timing but combines this with conflict and the serious themes. The three cast members work well together with warm, tender and funny chemistry: quite a winning combination.
Murphy’s script is not only smart and funny but consistently authentic and relatable. He effortlessly brings out warm and genuine laughter as the three characters find their way into each other’s circle. While the story focuses on depicting the highs and lows of growing up gay in Australia, Murphy also astutely taps into universal themes that resonate with everyone – the yearning for a sense of family and a profound need for meaningful connections. This is a lovely warm and funny evening out, more than worth a visit.
Written by: Tommy Murphy
Directed by: Adam Spreadbury-Maher
Produced by: LAMBCO Productions
Strangers In Between plays at Golden Goose Theatre until 7 October. Further information and bookings can be found here.