Scott Wallace
23rd Feb 2017

One of the many pieces of theatre taking place around Sydney for this year's Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, MEMBER is doubtlessly the most confronting work of theatre you're likely to see this year. The one-man show takes place in a hospital room, freshly awakened memories and guilt competing with the nagging sound of a heart monitor.

Writer and star Ben Noble plays Corey, a middle-aged father whose son is unconscious in hospital after being brutally bashed. Through Corey's evocative monologue, which cagily circles around the fate of his son, we learn about him, his wife, and his experiences growing up nearly Manly's North Head, where a plague of gay bashings over three decades led to many murders still unsolved today.

The hegemony of toxic masculinity is the driving force behind the play. As Corey tells his story, he imitates the many people in his life - his witty wife, a preening gay coworker, the blokes he looked up to when he was young, his snivelling son - and the way in which he portrays them is very revealing of the way he sees the world. He reveals how deeply and violently prejudices are drilled into us, to the point where we can't even recognise their beginning point.

In MEMBER's most visceral, heart-stopping moments, it is utterly gripping and hypnotic. Noble's words and performance strive to frame MEMBER's central monologue as more-or-less conversational ramble guided by Corey's inner turmoil, and for the most part he succeeds. But occasionally a certain obtuseness creeps in in the form of high strung metaphors that disrupt the flow that he has worked so hard to build up. 

Where the play succeeds most is in the way it merges the grotesque and the humane, with the conscientious but weak-willed, still conflicted Corey as as the nexus point of that merger. He is a suitably complex character to carry the whole story, but it's a shame that not even his mortally wounded son is afforded as much depth. 

Ultimately, MEMBER feels like a queer story written for a heterosexual audience, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but queer audiences are unlikely to find it particularly illuminating. Its evocation of hidden horrors that took place right on the picturesque doorstep of many Sydney dwellers is timely and strikingly told, and while it is important that these tragic events become more widely known so that we can stop them from repeating, the play aims to perturb without necessarily creating a deeper conversation about the place of queer people in Australia. 

MEMBER is on at The Blood Moon Theatre (inside The World Bar), Potts Point until Saturday March 4th. See the Sydney Scoop calendar for details. Production photos by Deryk McAlpin and promo photo by Luke Cadden.