This Bitter Earth: Stripping down the hopes and dreams of every relationship we have ever had
As the audience enters the theatre shuffling for seats, the tunes of Kylie Minogue set the tone as Joel's (Matthew Predny) dance moves act as the opening credits to the 72-minute production that lifts the veil on the inner workings of LGBTI single and dating life.
Why do so many raised in the digital age find it easier to speak to each other while in the same room through a dating app than in person? It's the main underlying theme of the brutal vulgarity as Millenial-Joel shares his first intimate encounter. The graphic imagery hilariously describes what could very well be a standard right of passage for many. Is it a good thing or is there work to be done in the social etiquette and interaction of gay dating and interpersonal connection?
Chris Edwards drops snapshots of the LGBTIQ+ social sphere like puzzle pieces. The interconnecting need of wanting and being wanted unifies the characters we are introduced to. There's plenty of dish on the inner thought process of the modern gay and lesbian dating as heavy truths spill on stage.
The scene-stealers of the night were in following scene with Dean (Mitchell Bourke) and Joel (Michael Cameron), who play out the seemingly long term love-hate relationship that immediately opens with laughs and a soundtrack of disco. A sense of realism that's less abstract than the preceding monologue, it's the perfect additive to the collection of stories presented through the evening. Edwards has struck gold with Dean and Mitchell Bourke who provided great one-liners was a more recognizable character many in the audience could identify and with perfectly timed banter with his co-star. Michael Cameron's portrayal was cleverly comedic and garnering our sympathy from the botched marriage proposal. Is Dean afraid of commitment? How can Joel enjoy being the subject of his partner's sarcasm and insults? The two actors work well together providing a sense of realism, superb timing in the setup of jokes and we're rooting for Joel, before a cliffhanger at the end of the story that hints at cracks of physical abuse or anger management in this dynamic. It certainly would explain Dean's tendency to drink his way through the four year relationship. The talent of Edwards' writing is found in this scene using the quirky quick tongued verbal sparring depicted in Joel and Dean's relationship. The barrel of laughs paid out masks the very dark heart of this relationship.
In contrast to the uncensored vocalising of raw thought and emotion from the males' point of view, we only see this in the combustion of Sam (Elle Mickel) as the result of obviously unresolved issues from her past relationship with friend and ex-girlfriend, Charlie (Sarah Simon). It's interesting to see the styles in internalizing that come through by this point. Very well thought out characters. The arc of dirty humour, confrontation, apparent love and respect is refereed by the diplomatic Emma (Ariadne Sgouros). The depiction of three lesbian personas is one that has been underdeveloped in mainstream theatre and Edwards work moves that a step forward.
This Bitter Earth was described as an "unstitched patchwork of queer lives in queer times" of today's Millenial, however the movie references and some jokes in the script are from the generations preceding them. The awkward chemistry between Bobby (Michael Cameron) and Helena (Ariadne Sgouros) might be a missed opportunity as it seems a little underdeveloped. Bobby is established as Bisexual / Queer progressive and Helena established as a virgin serving no real purpose to the scene development other than the setup for some of the funniest one liners and group fake orgasms in the entire show. The acting from the ensemble rises above this technical nitpicking, and the nightclub and ‘safe space sangria' sequences are overall a nice lighthearted and playful counter balance to the fierceness in the opening scenes.
The final scene retreats into the abstract opening like a dream sequence of inner thoughts. It's a verbal montage of the stories that seem to roll back into Jake's monologue. Have we been watching someone's dream? Are we watching someone's aspirations being shaped by the models of relationships and interactions around them? Were we witnessing the internal battle of a sexually diverse individual, indoctrinated by conflicting ideas that cause ongoing confusion in his or her search for contentment in self identity? Edwards' writing and his cast's delivery make a reasonable case for it.
One of the profound takeaways from This Bitter Earth is its universal fear to open yourself completely to someone and how your sense of self affects the quality of those connections.
This Bitter Earth is the modern gay way to win, lose and love - and a show for anyone who loves.
Until 27 July at New Theatre newtheatre.org.au/this-bitter-earth