A Nest Of Skunks

Rebecca Varidel
7th Aug 2016

A Nest Of Skunks did the job that no other play has done for me before. I cried. For the first time in live theatre, in the final moments of the play I had tears trickling down my face.

A Nest Of Skunks tackles the sometimes contentious subject of asylum seekers in an award winning play by James Balian and Roger Vickery. Balian is connected to the subject and developed the play from a short story by Vickery. It's a story that needed to be told.

"Our play began as a short story Roger wrote about a woman running a safe house for refugees, her relationship with two short term 'stayers' and a revelation that throws an unexpected light on their world. James developed a more complex structure, additional characters and a plausible socio-political setting. Then we subjected the script to 'cage fight love' - plot, motivations, directions clichés, whether to use the 'Oxford comma', every aspect was interrogated - until we arrived at the draft that won an award. And of course the rehearsal process has brought some deft variations from the director and the cast. The abiding theme has been to explore the dark and sometimes ferocious issue of displaced people, those who fear them and those who want to help, in a personalized and nuanced way."

The radio is on talk back. It immediately presents the subject of the play, A Nest Of Skunks, the political climate and the opinion of the media. Listening to the radio in an ordinary suburban kitchen we meet asylum seeker Stephen.

During the laboriously slow beginning we then meet Lily (Penelope Lee) when she enters her Spartan kitchen. During the play she peels carrots, an everyday task. Penelope Lee as the central core created a marvellously flat Spartan character - simple, frugal, austere. It's a comparison of which Lee, Balian and Vickery might approve. A couple of times during the play, Lily gives us a history and ethics lesson using Sparticus (the Trumbo movie). Lee's portrayal was superb in both its own right, and as a foil to the diversity of the other five cast members. At times, when pushed, she angers slightly, rising from her stoic posture, defending her beliefs and protecting those under her care.

In use of gesture and stage, and in his broken phrasing, Brendan Miles gave a sterling performance as Stephen, engaging and embracing emotionally. Yet something was niggling at me. I needed more accent. There were times when the moment was lost as his Aussie twang crept through. Perhaps it was just as well that he brought me back to theatre and performance and out of the moment, or it might have been more than a few tears staining my face.

As his daughter Sam, Aanisa Vylet provided an outstanding performance as the lost and dishevelled 20 year old, new to the country, hiding in the pantry. Every aspect Vylet delivered, from her drowsy awakenings to violently trying to stay in the kitchen to her heart wrenching rendition of Waltzing Matilda, emphatically embraced the audience. Perhaps she is why I cried.

Balancing the argument for and against, Michael (Peter Condon) and Kristy (Amanda Maple-Brown) and Miriam (Jeannie Gee) all gave glowing portrayals of their characters. Although more smirk than smile from Kristy would have clinched the deal for me. Jeannie Gee as the neighbour was just perfect in helping us to understand how easy it is to believe what we are told.

The script conveying a few short hours, in a play of 70 minutes with no interval, slowly builds. In this device the playwrights also build interest and intrigue, before we are blown away with more than one twist of plot and fate.

A Nest Of Skunks is performing at The Depot Theatre Marrickville until August 13th.