After a sell-out run in 2021, this site-specific psychosexual drama returns to the great outdoors of Green Park in Darlinghurst with a special run for Sydney Festival from January 19-20. BYO picnic rug (and rain poncho, just in case) and get ready to listen in on your headphones as a hook-up goes awry. Read on for our review from the 2021 season.
Two men meet in a park, after having connected on a hook-up app. Edden is young, out and Black, and Warren is middle-aged, closeted and white. In Elias Jamieson Brown’s Green Park, it is the sexual dalliance that brings different worlds together. Juxtaposing the most intimate of human acts against the severe divisions of 21st-century life, the two characters engage in a constant tug-of-war, as we meditate on hopes of camaraderie and unity. Sex is by nature a binding force, yet it is able to reveal so poignantly, the fractures that exist between individuals.
Staged by Griffin Theatre Company, this show is helmed by artistic director Declan Greene. Rather than stage it at Griffin's home base, he places the action outside, in the actual Green Park of Darlinghurst. With all walls of the usual theatrical space removed, he insists that the audience sees not only the performers but also the historically significant location that lends its name to the play. Unintended supporting actors surround the action, offering real-life noise that makes us look over our shoulders, as we sense the omnipresent threat of violence that queer people must live with, every day of our lives. Greene imbues an uncanny realism that draws us in, for both the theatrical moment unfolding and the palpable non-fiction concerns to which his work refers.
It is a passionate and deeply truthful piece of writing from Jamieson Brown. His tragically flawed personalities offer insight into the ills of the day, shedding light on what we lack as a society, including the unfinished business of what many may consider the fulfilled destiny of the 20th-century gay movement. We can now marry people of our own sex, but as we see in Green Park, so much harm continues to be inflicted on those unable to adhere to the straight and narrow. There is a lot that is painful and profound in the work, but the clandestine quality of this illicit and salacious encounter makes for a rivetingly enjoyable show.
Actor Joseph Althouse, a proud Tiwi/Arrernte man who lives and works on Gadigal country, is remarkably convincing as the erratic Edden, powerfully embodying the risky existence of a young lost soul. He introduces a resonant defiance to his nuanced depiction of a sexual masochist, confronting us with the disturbing notion of a Black man roaming the streets (and the internet), asking to be dominated, albeit on his own terms. Steve Le Marquand skilfully turns a sad cliché of a man, in Warren, into someone whose story proves to be surprisingly moving. The role requires a complicated range of emotions, and Le Marquand’s deftness at bringing clear articulation to each of Warren’s interior states is impressive. Also laudable is the degree to which the pair is in sync with one another. They move through the show’s many tonal fluctuations in tight unison, always keeping in mutual rhythm, no matter how the narrative alters its trajectory.
It is noteworthy that the performances are enhanced by the provision of headphones, that prevents the audience from losing any word of dialogue to the open-air conditions. David Bergman’s sound design is effective in manufacturing a sense of the natural to accompany the outdoors context of the production, and equally potent when dialling up the theatrical, for sequences that involve greater sensory elevation.
Edden and Warren think all they want is some no-strings sex, but it is evident that to compartmentalise sexuality, to separate it from the rest of our lives, is not as simple as it may seem. We are made from sex, and we continue to live in cultures that are always partially, but fundamentally, defined by sex. It creates conventions, tells us what is acceptable and what is not; it upholds hierarchies, aggrandising certain people and oppressing others. Both men in Green Park suffer as a result of their libidinal impulses. They are punished by others, as well as by themselves, for something that occurs naturally between consenting adults. The play Green Park, like its namesake on which the Gay and Lesbian Holocaust Memorial stands, is a powerful reminder that so much of what underpins our way of life is dreadfully unkind. No matter which stripe of the rainbow one aligns with, complacency is not quite yet a luxury any of us can afford.