In his 2011 Griffin Award winning play Rick Viede poses that age old question: How far would you go to get famous? A Hoax takes its audience on a rough and bumpy ride to the darkest, most morally bankrupt regions of the human soul. And leaves them in stitches.
Indigenous teenager Currah has impressed literary agent Ronnie Lowe (Sally McKenzie) with her memoir ‘Nobody’s Girl’, a confronting portrait of the sexual abuse she encountered as a child. Currah’s sure to make a fortune, but there’s just one thing – she doesn’t exist and the story is entirely fabricated. Its real author is middle-aged social worker Ant (Glenn Hazeldine) and he has employed Miri (Shari Sebbens), an innocent and precocious black girl, to play Currah and sell his story to the world.
A Hoax is wildly ambitious, dealing with everything from the perils of celebrity, to sexuality, gender and race. Viede’s dialogue is sharp and hideously funny, if shocking (“I enjoyed it” Currah replies, when asked how she felt about her father raping her). But the play itself does not always hit the mark. Too often A Hoax abandons the realm of plausibility, and with so many events packed into a mere two hours, it is left up to the actors to tie together the loose ends of their characters, who might become tiresome caricatures in the hands of a lesser cast.
Hazeldine is pitch perfect as the troubled social worker and would-be author, his tumultuous journey from rags to riches and rags again a convincing balance of pathos and cunning. Sebbens, too, is excellent in her disturbing transformation from Miri to the abused Currah, while McKenzie makes the most of her underdeveloped character, an eerily familiar whore for success and alcoholism.
But it is American import Charles Allen who steals the show as Tyrelle, Ronnie’s black, gay personal assistant. Blessed with the play’s punchiest one-liners and a series of truly fabulous outfits (set and costumes by Renée Mulder), Allen is instantly likable and makes sense of a preposterous character arc that takes him to YouTube stardom and the brink of insanity.
The action takes place on a sparse black and white set, with occasional projections (by Steve Toumlin, lighting by Jason Glenwright) effective in illustrating the various hotel room settings where the characters interact. Lee Lewis’s direction is without the glitz and spectacle that Sydney audiences have grown use to, but her precise staging utilises the challenging Stables theatre well and it is clear from the get-go that she is out to serve the play first and foremost.
One can’t help but feel that Viede’s play is one rewrite short of brilliant and in need of more rigorous dramaturgy. While many of its twists (and yes, there are many) are genuinely horrifying, some are downright silly, and the play grinds to a halt in later scenes as Viede rummages to find closure for his characters through cringe-inducing cliches and ambiguities (“You don’t know me”).
But for what it’s worth, A Hoax will provide most audience members with a thoroughly entertaining, thought-provoking night at the theatre.