“I had never seen somebody fuck a kangaroo and eat it at the same time. Now I have.”
That’s what happens when your small town develops a zombie infestation. Rival doctors Waterman and Littlewood (Nick Welsh and Alexander Richmond) think they have the cure. Fanny (Melissa McShane) is more disillusioned than ever as she embarks on adulthood and her carer Nancy (Geneva Gilmour) just wants her to get married.
Quack is set in federation-era Australia — with all the right accents and period costume — but speaks to the rhetoric of 21st century politics. We see the rhetoric of disillusionment, of “moving forward”, of “core promises”, of authority for its own sake, of trust and mistrust. More than anything, we see the rhetoric of characters who hold each other in utter contempt.
Zombies might sound unusual in the age of Queen Victoria, and they certainly bemuse the characters (“your gait is like treacle!”) But this dissonance is fundamental: the play presents the breakdown of civic order in opposition to the waltzes, the toasts to the monarch, the oak furniture, the vanitas trinkets.
Director Zach Beavon-Collin thoughtfully explores modern politics through characters who, like insipid politicians, echo their convictions on the stage in the hope that they will come true. He comically weaves the languages of politics, medicine, poetry, sex and war. Characters flirt in medical jargon; politics is wrought in misquoted Shakespeare; organ donors are political donors.
But sex and politics aren’t a joke to Fanny, who is discovering a naïve, nascent sexual adulthood. One of the most thoughtful aspects of this production is her frustrated performance of sexuality, femininity and maturity: “a woman is either virgin or mother or whore.”
Quack is visceral — both literally and figuratively — and the squeamish are advised to find a seat at the back. We see characters murder, urinate, molest, bleed, assault and castrate. The gore represents the turpitude of the claustrophobic town, which is part of a broader equivalence between illness and immorality, the sick body and the sick soul.
The absolute highlight of the show is Gilmour, who gives a highly accomplished performance as Nancy. Welsh can be underwhelming, but both he and his rival Richmond become more fluent on stage when their characters have nothing left to lose.
The production boasts an original score, which is one of its biggest accomplishments. Josie Gibson pre-composed the first act and improvises the second act, mixing a thrilling soundscape live in the theatre. The play has a distinctive cinematic quality due to its suspenseful music, dynamic lighting, and appropriation of zombie film.
“Zombies are society,” says Beavon-Collin. “Politically, and in many other respects, our response to things is just a mindless groaning.”
Quack opens 7:30pm Wednesday 19 March at Studio B (beside the Footbridge Theatre). Tickets are available at the door ($3-$10). It runs until Saturday.