By Laura Money
Hand In Hand Theatre end their 2017 season with a clever and intense play about the harsh effects of capitalism in post-communist Russia – how it can benefit society but how it mostly just tears them apart. Director Luke Gratton introduces Black Milk wearing a black coat and jeans, and brown boots. He describes the set in a cliche but consistent Russian accent – a run-down train station complete with uncaring tickets saleswoman and drunk man asleep on a bench. And so begins the play – it has an urban legend, fairy-tale quality in its telling, by introducing us, we expect to learn something in this cautionary tale.
For an amateur theatre group, the set is brilliantly designed. Justin Mosel-Crossley creates a realistic Russian train platform with old park benches, peeling painted panels complete with graffiti and posters, and a realistic looking ticket desk. The costuming by Ash Spring is perhaps a little less comprehensive, as it is difficult to tell which era this work is set. The main characters look great as chavs and the peasants are poor, with headscarves and whatever they can get but it does seem a little confused.
The dark comedy opens with the arrival of Lyovchik (Philip Hutton) and his heavily pregnant wife, Poppet (Sjaan Lucas). Lyovchik’s tracksuit and Poppet’s penchant for leopard skin really complement their characters well. Hutton and Lucas both adopt English ‘geezer’ accents, which only slip occasionally, well suited to their sleazy salesman characters. They argue hammer and tong and even manage to wake up the old drunk in the bench. These two are wonderful together – they really have chemistry. Their banter reveals a toxic relationship that will come back to haunt them at the end of the show.
Despite fighting with each other, they show a united front against the ticket seller (Kylie Sturgess) who probably has the largest character development. Sturgess is quite good, she presents a gruff and knowing exterior but later reveals herself to be a deep thinker. She has perhaps, picked the wrong accent – it is incongruous to the character and some of her points would have more impact if she slowed down but otherwise Sturgess has created quite an endearing character.
On accents – Black Milk is clearly set in Russia. It is full of Russian names. I can suspend disbelief if all of the characters adopted an English accent (like in Les Miserables) but inconsistencies with some English, some Aussie and the two actors capable of a Russian accent just seems to tarnish the show’s professionalism.
Black Milk explores the depths of humanity and just how cruel or kind we can be to each other. It highlights that no person is black and white but also proves the old adage that a leopard can’t change his spots. It’s a great end to a strong season from Hand In Hand Theatre.
WHEN: 16-18 November 2017
WHERE: Studio 411, Murdoch University