DIRT BY ANGUS CAMERON @ Home Economics at Girls School gets 9/10

by Angus Cameron @ Home Economics at Girls School
Friday, February 4, 2022


Originally developed to raise awareness about the 2017 and 2019 anti-queer purges in Chechnya, the award-winning DIRT by Angus Cameron comes to WA for the first time via Fringe World 2022. Starring real-life partners Wil King and Patrick Livesey, this stunning, thought-provoking work bursts into life on the relatively small stage of Home Economics at Girls School through five-star performances by two extraordinary actors with inimitable chemistry. Careful lighting and sound design (Matt Ralph and MzRizk), and minimalist but highly functional set design allow the excellent dialogue-based script to emphasise the show’s themes in an understated, non-distracting way.

The action starts in media res, with Australian tourist Connor (King) approaching Kolya, their Russian tour guide (Livesey), asking them to go out for a drink. King begins the show from within the audience before joining Livesey on stage. Over the course of the night, the pair party in various locations but first and foremost on the menu always is gripping, important, deep conversations. Connor shares their struggles as a queer person from an Australian perspective, encouraging Kolya to share their own from their unique perspective as a Russian. Their stories are both harrowing, their vulnerability in the act of sharing portrayed by King and Livesey with deftness and compassion. We eventually become aware that Connor is more than a mere tourist, he’s a journalist wanting to make a documentary about “what it’s like to be gay in Russia.”

One can’t help but wonder at the many intricate directorial choices that craft and shape this exceptional work, such as the decision to have King start the action from within the audience. Upon reflection after the show (and with this show, there will be many things to reflect about), it feels like a conscious decision to represent an outsider asking for and ultimately receiving an invitation from a stranger to let them into their world for a night, to get to know what living their life is truly like. Asked and answered, in a wonderful twist appropriate to this genre of thriller, does Connor end up with exactly what he asked for and, perhaps, even more? Well, that’s up to you to decide.

Both actors deliver performances that are absolute masterclasses. At all times King and Livesey utterly inhabit their characters. Finely focused, every facial expression, gesture and movement is entirely convincing with nothing going to waste. King’s charisma as a performer leaches into every corner of the room and Livesey’s Russian accent is so pin-point that it felt shocking to hear them speak normally after the show. Clearly, a lot of time has been spent crafting this work and bravo, because nothing should distract from subject matter so important and desperate. The DIRT team’s fine attention to detail from every dramaturgical perspective allows the audience to remain wholly immersed from start to finish.

Throughout the show, short blackouts allow King and Livesey to change the set effectively and efficiently, so we go from the streets to Kolya’s apartment to the club dance floor and bathroom and back to Kolya’s apartment again effortlessly. In another brilliant dramaturgical choice, one set change occurs in dim lighting rather than a full blackout. A stunning intimate scene that begins with clear consent asked for and enthusiastically given flows into beautiful, allusive movement that eventuates into both performers changing the set from couch to bed while undressing, eyes locked and facial expressions giving the audience a clear understanding of the intimacy that is unfolding. The choice to make this set-change visible, to incorporate it into the sensual act, is pure genius. Everything the audience needs to imagine takes place between the locked eyes of King and Livesey as Connor and Kolya, and their perfectly choreographed ensemble work during this set change is everything.

At all times, the difficult subject matter is handled with great respect. Connor and Kolya tell their own stories without appropriating the struggles of others, and indeed, the question of who gets to tell someone’s story and how appears in the narrative more than once. DIRT as a show manages to stand firmly in solidarity, representing the struggles of others ethically and bringing real-life issues to the attention of their audiences. This is performance activism at its very finest.

With the ongoing issues the performing arts sector faces, this team from Adelaide had to really work hard to get this work onstage in WA and we should consider ourselves lucky that they were one of the few interstate acts that managed it. They have two more performances left at Fringe World Perth tonight, and tickets are available here. Don’t miss it.


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