Merciless Gods

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‘Please be advised, performances of Merciless Gods contain: haze, nudity, adult themes, sex scenes, smoking, drug use, sexually explicit language’, reads the warning sign displayed at the entry to the first ever stage adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’s short story collection. The sign reads more like an advertisement than a warning, as anyone who has read or seen Tsiolkas’s works knows to expect something intense and uncomfortable, sordid and yet beautiful. This production by award-winning playwright Dan Giovannoni and Little Ones Theatre recreates eight of the short stories in all their raw, confronting and heartbreaking glory.

Merciless Gods centres on themes and perspectives that are normally kept hushed and hidden in Australian society. Think encounters in a gay spa, prison brutality, migrants and racism. A junkie doing a gay porno to pay off his debts, a daughter with an emotionally abusive alcoholic mother, a family who decides euthanasia is the best option. These are snapshots that reveal the human side to haunting and provocative narratives. There’s a voyeuristic element to watching the characters’ emotional tumult as they try to fit into conventional society or struggle with thoughts they think aren’t ‘normal’.

Clever screenwriting, impressive acting, eerie music, fearless nudity, the beautiful setting of Northcote Town Hall and a runway-style stage with the two halves of the audience facing each other produce an intimate and intriguing experience. Scenes featuring the whole group or pairs of actors are captivating; the chemistry between the characters is utterly mesmerising. The individual scenes could all be expanded into feature length plays in themselves, it’d be interesting to see the stories continue to unfold. Unfortunately, although sometimes powerful, the monologues weren’t always as enthralling.

Merciless Gods takes Tsiolkas’s short stories and fleshes them out into visually tantalising bites. It’s refreshing to see a theatre production that has characters beyond the usual stereotype, whilst being enjoyable and thought provoking at the same time. It’s a camp, darkly entertaining play that is an enticing trip for the senses, whilst drawing attention to themes that normally sit just under the surface of modern society.

Merciless Gods
Northcote Town Hall, 189 High Street, Northcote
Till Saturday, 5 August 2017

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