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Good Reviews For Young Thai Playwriter In Sydney

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Australian Graffiti.


By Disapol Savetsila. Sydney Theatre Company. Wharf 2 Theatre, July 12.

This play, set in a Thai restaurant in a small Australian town, ­explores the tensions that arise ­between the Thai characters and the locals when mysterious graffiti appears, in Thai, on the walls of their much-loved Baptist church.

The central character is 16-year-old Ben, who is interested in a local girl but whose relationship with her sours when she discovers the graffiti. He is drawn back into the company of his family and co-workers when the townsfolk ­besiege their restaurant. Playwright Disapol Savetsila is young (23) and his play has some ­moments of power. He and director Paige Rattray attempt to lift the action to a level above realism through exaggeration but the tone is not quite right.

The world of the play is never clearly established and questions of believability are not firmly enough quashed by the non-­realistic elements of the form.

There is a police officer, well played by Peter Kowitz, who is ­obsessed with finding out who did the graffiti but the style doesn’t quite stop us from asking why he does nothing about the gang of ­locals outside who are throwing rocks through the windows.

More successful is a dead man, the former cook, who keeps rising from his bed or the ground and having conversations with the other characters, although it is never clear why they leave his body lying around.

There is a well-done central ­dilemma for the group of Thai characters: should they stick it out, despite the fact no one ever comes to their restaurant (and ­despite the attacks on it); should they keep moving further west to smaller towns; or should they ­simply give up and go back to Thailand? This is a strong theme, evoking their alienation.

It is clear what Disapol is going for here — an absurdist way of ­exploring these issues of outsider experience and belonging — but it doesn’t quite come off.

As well as Kowitz, there are good performances by Mason Phoumirath, who is very affecting as Ben; by Kenneth Moraleda and Monica Sayers as conflicted workers; and by Sri Sacdpraseuth as the dead chef.

There are also Gabrielle Chan, as Ben’s mother, the owner of the restaurant who spends a lot of time simply shouting at her family and staff; and Airlie Dodds, as Ben’s love interest, who wants to teach him how to catch yabbies but who suddenly becomes part of the stone-throwing mob.

There is a very fine conclusion. Disapol clearly has talent and ­imagination, and I hope we will see more work by him.

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