Time Out says
Christos Tsiolkas' seminal debut novel gets an audio play update for today's Melbourne
"Read the book first,” they always say. But the first time I stumbled across Loaded, Christos Tsiolkas’ thrilling 1995 debut novel and hedonistic love letter to Melbourne, it was via Ana Kokkinos’ exhilarating movie adaptation Head On. Living half the world away in Glasgow, I might not have known the trundle of trams down Sydney Road or the way St Kilda’s palm trees cling to the great sweep of Port Philip Bay, but the sights, sounds and seediest back rooms of the city burst to recognisable life.
And then there was wild child Ari, queer, hungry, confused and angry teenage drug-dealing bad (but good) boy, as played with astounding swagger and staggering good looks by Alex Dimitriades. Our backgrounds were different, but our battles to square away the competing facets of our lives overlapped. I knew what it was like to loathe elements of myself, and to worship at the altar of excess. I could taste the tang of his misadventures. Ari was out of control. But he was a survivor. This was something new. Unapologetic
I can’t tell you how many times I watched that VHS or devoured Tsiolkas’ searing novel. So I came to Loaded understanding it could burn bright across platforms. I was psyched to see playwright Dan Giovannoni (Cut Snake) and director Stephen Nicolazzo (Merciless Gods, The Happy Prince) bring it to life at the Malthouse. But like Ari’s best laid plans, that didn’t quite pan out, thanks to you know what. But just like Ari, they got back up on their feet and now we have an astounding radio play in four parts instead.
Opening with a twang of guitars undercut with an old Greek chant, then ramping up the bass and blurring into the fabulous disco duck and dive of ‘Lost in music’, Ari’s misadventures feel even more alive online. Roy Joseph brilliantly takes on all the characters, including Ari's best friend Johnny aka Tulah (memorably played by Paul Capsis in the film). You can see the drug-induced sweaty sheen when he tells us, “I look like shit. I smell like shit.” The story’s been smartly updated, too, with the ‘90s Melbourne of Tsiolkas’ novel unrecognisable. Ari rails against the gentrification of Collingwood and Richmond, he laughs at a poster of Beyoncé in Brunswick and listens to Kanye’s Yeezus while ignoring his mum's text messages.
A queer odyssey across all corners of the city, it’s all the more vital for our current 25km demarcated boundaries. Joseph commands our attentions, with Ari railing against his blurred identities and fraught parental relationships, all the while the rush from a cornucopia of drugs pounds out loud as he loses himself to the grip of strangers in the dark. And the sex scenes. Sheesh. This is as hot as radio gets and certainly not suitable for work. But, as always, there’s the distant promise of something more. There’s an eternity caught in the gap when Ari thinks of George, the blonde-haired object of his fleeting affections: “I want to tell him I love you but…I will never say those words.”
It’s an aching void desperate to be filled. We want Ari to love himself. We hope one day he will, as the craziness of today drowns out his search in a cacophony of Syrian bombs, mass graves in New York City and MAGA caps. And then, in the end, Giovannoni and director Nicolazzo play their finest card, as time itself seems to collapse, like Ari at the end of this long and restless night, with the gulf between the novel and now folding in on itself. In the blissful aftermath, it left me hungry.