Gundog (Three Fates Theatre), at Chapel Off Chapel (120 minutes, plus a 20-minute interval)
Updated: Nov 10
The rough lot of an impoverished farming clan is front and centre in Gundog, a dramatic and confronting play with lashes of humour.
Although written by Simon Longman from the West Midlands and set on a remote, rundown property in the UK, it fits comfortably into the Australian milieu.
The introduction makes quite the impression, courtesy of the barrel of a shotgun being pointed at a hapless intruder.
Becky (Thalia Dudek) milks the situation for all it is worth, adding to Guy’s (Alexandros Pettas) nervousness.
Photos by Zoe Hawkins
She leads the inquisition, although Guy is barely able to get a word out, while it is her older sister Anna (Laura McCluskey) holding the gun.
The trio is in the midst of a flock of pregnant sheep in the middle of the night, where Guy explains he was scrapping for metal.
It turns out that Guy has had a hard time of it since he arrived in the country from Europe and the two young women could do with a helping hand on the farm.
So, despite his inexperience with sheep, Becky offers Guy room and board without pay.
He gladly accepts and proves himself a competent hand.
We learn that Anna and Becky’s parents are dead. So, too, their grandfather, while their brother is no longer around.
Guy has not had contact with his parents for some time.
And then suddenly, three years after he left, Ben (Andy Johnston) – the women’s older sibling – shows up, sans shoes and socks, in a sorry looking state.
We turn back the clock to when grandad Mick (Dion Mills) and father (who we don’t see) were still on the scene.
Back stories are teased out and the dispositions of the characters are there for all to see.
Gundog is an insightful work that sheds light on the difficulties of making ends meet on the land. Of course, that is subject to the vicissitudes of the weather, the seasons and plain hard yakka.
For this family, nothing seems to come easily and there are always challenges.
Anna is forever making a go of it, suggesting they will find a way through.
Becky is not so sure, but ploughs on.
Ben is disenchanted, angry and depressed. The loss of their mother and then their father hit him particularly hard.
And grandad is losing his mind.
The performances are very strong, led by Thalia Dudek in a spectacular showing.
They do much of the heavy lifting. Their turns of light and shade are particularly noteworthy. Facial expressions and body language only serve to cement what a fine actor they are.
Laura McCluskey is comparatively understated as the stoic big sister.
For the most part, Andy Johnson is dark and foreboding as their brother.
Alexandros Pettas conveys the shift in characterisation that occurs within Guy.
Dion Mills is loud and, at times, menacing as a grandfather who is no longer all there.
With sheepskin, a pair of rusty, old metal shears, a shotgun, a circular rug and little else, Freya Allen has crafted a most impressive and utilitarian set.
Harrie Hogan’s lighting, Sam Porter’s sound and Zoe Hawkins’ costuming complete the evocative picture that transports us to where the action takes place.
Well directed by Alonso Pineda, I was highly immersed in what I was seeing, but felt the first act needed tightening and that gets down to the script. Too much time was spent going over ground that had already been established.
Still, the Australian premiere of Gundog is an intense and piercing study of unrelenting grind that is definitely worth catching.
It is playing at Chapel Off Chapel until 13th November, 2022.
Please note that the play’s contents may be triggering for some. Help is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.