Unidentified Human Remains, Identified SUDS Innovation

SUDS’ latest production is slick and macabre

WHAT: SUDS’ Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love
WHERE: The Cellar Theatre
WHEN: 3–6 May, 10–13 May

The exploration of love and sexuality will forever be a confusing and challenging time in one’s life, particularly when a serial killer is thrown into the mix — as it is in Brad Fraser’s Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love. Ben Sterlin’s first directorial debut for SUDS is a bold choice in an explosive, uncomfortable, yet thoroughly enjoyable two and half hours, introducing many fresh faces and daring production choices to the SUDS scene.

Fraser’s play focuses on seven central characters: David (Tim Doran), a gay man who no longer believes that love exists; Candy (India Urwin), David’s roommate, and a heterosexual woman trying to meet her perfect man whilst simultaneously exploring queerness; Kane (James Mukheibir), a teenager who idolizes David and quesitons his sexuality; Bernie (JK Kazzi); David’s troubled best friend; Jerri (Georgia Condon), a lesbian who falls in love with Candy; Robert (Nate Carlyle), a boring straight man who also falls in love with Candy; and Benita (Jasmine Cavanough), a sex worker with psychic abilities who oversees the evening. Characters are complex, and intertwine through love, sexuality, friendship and death, delicately balancing moments of platonic intimacy and humour with those of physical violence and intense sex.

Doran provides stunning depth to protagonist David, offering both charisma and wit with perfect comedic timing in certain scenes, and intense emotion in others. His acting explores the character’s many traits and possibilities, swinging between the two vastly different personalities of Kane and Bernie to underscore both the former’s youthful innocence and the latter’s bitter, nihilist angst. In their first ever SUDS production, James and JK’s acting is outstanding, their performances delivered with such subtlety and richness that greatly juxtaposes their jumps into scenes of intense physicality and heightened emotion. The cast’s acting is spectacular, and actors play off one another with remarkable chemistry — perhaps the only critique is that individual monologues need to be softened a touch.

Unfortunately, Benita’s sex worker storyline is a particularly tired trope — coming from an abusive family and being a heroin user — and is just short of Richard Gere appearing in a tuxedo with a bunch of roses to save her from herself. This is, however, more of a criticism of Fraser than Cavanough as an actress, who provides much warmth, strength and relatability that is needed when portraying sex workers.

The design of the show is intricate and innovative (maybe more so than the play’s conventional “figure-in-front-of-black-curtain” promo shots initially let on), and become very apparent within the complex, six-location setting the play takes place in. Much praise deserves to be rewarded for the sound and lighting team who are on-beat throughout the entire show, with queues practically every thirty seconds to complete the illusion of constant noise and non-stop change between scenes and characters. The set provides the appropriate staging for Sterlin’s decision to have all actors present throughout the entirety of the show, an exhausting feat upon the cast’s part that ultimately pays off due to the seamless incorporation of random dialogue and the quick tempo of the play.

The performance balances its fast pace with moments of eerie quietness as original tracks complete the macabre ambience beautifully. Still, there is room for improvement, with the brief times where the serenity is shattered — the occasional piercing scream track in the first act, the creepy laugh track in the second — potentially cheapening rich moments to that of an amusement park Ghost Train.

Unidentified Human Remains is a feat of creativity, with its ability to both make one squirm and provide comfort in its relatable themes. Sterlin’s staging and production choices are an excellent exploration of what’s capable in SUDS, and I am eager to see the talented cast become familiar faces amongst the scene. If you haven’t grabbed tickets already be sure to do so: this production is one you’re unlikely to forget quickly.