In James Taylor’s Hobo, a perfect storm of evils collides at the dead end of an alley. Among the excrement and urine, vermin and bottles of plonk, the homeless and destitute eke out a volatile and vulnerable half-life.
Hobo maintains an impressive authenticity, especially in its portrayal of chronic drunkenness and mental confusion.
However, the play is uneven in both its text and staging.
Part of the issue is in performance. James Hagan is a wonderful, imposing actor who has given us some memorable performances over a long career but his presence here, the sheer volume of him, is just too much for this play in this small space.
Excerpt from David Zampatti's review (emphasis added) - Complete review in the West Australian
Hobo, Blue Room 5-16 July
Written by Cicely Binford, Australian Stage
Monday, 11 July 2016 16:40
Jeffrey the Cat ProductionJeffrey the Cat Productions’ Hobo is back for another run at The Blue Room, opening in time for NAIDOC week, and continuing its journey as a work in development. It originally ran during The Blue Room’s 2016 Summer Nights season, and has undergone a few changes since it first hit the stage. Writer James Taylor stepped into one of the acting roles and brought Ian Wilkes on board to direct.
The changes mark a positive step in the right direction. The script has seen a bit of alteration, though Taylor keeps intact its blunt humour and Beat-ish sensibility. James Hagan as Fred and Maitland Schnaars as Tank are still two erupting volcanoes competing for the show’s alleyway territory, just as volatile as ever. Somehow, through a combination of good character writing and natural charisma, they are both repellant and lovable, and even when they’re at their most disgusting, we’re on their side.
Fred (James Hagan) is an ex radio personality whose wife has divorced him; their split plus a gambling problem has left him destitute, so he bunks down in an alleyway with his friend Tank (Maitland Schnaars). Tank proudly calls this slice of land his own, so throughout the show there’s allusion to the land rights issue that continues to perplex Australia.
Other pertinent themes on offer are mental health, alcoholism, homophobia, and of course racism. It’s a lot to get through, which I think is why the script can get a little chaotic at points. It would help to choose very specific points along the show’s narrative where the characters, especially Tank, whose character has the most pivotal moments to live through, take a beat and make a very clear shift. As it stands, scenes, moments and intentions tumble into each other before we get a chance to latch onto and process them.
Taylor comes into the show as Fred’s gay son Terry, but he also provides the show’s soundtrack on ambient guitar upstage right. In many ways, his presence as chorus/character is fluid, and at one stage he delivers a poignant poem about the sea that becomes a plea to his father. His delivery of this is straightforward and unsentimental, which makes it effective. James Hagan has a face and voice that make an indelible impression, and Maitland Schnaars creates a complex character in Tank who is funny, sweet, kind, but confused, angry and sad as well.
One of the most interesting scenes takes place in the dark, where the actors flick lighters on and off while they ricochet around the space, trying to work out their identities. It’s an interesting metaphor for the confusion in Tank’s head, and a compelling facet of the production, though perhaps it needs tightening up just one notch for it to become really fascinating and effective.
Chris Brain has embellished the world of Hobo quite a bit with his set design that features rows and rows of stuffed black bin bags covering the walls (let’s hope they get reused after the show closes!). Chloe Ogilvie’s lighting design gives us a good idea of setting, though perhaps sometimes transitions between night and day could have been slightly longer for more subtlety.
There’s a lot to unpack in Hobo, which could be both a blessing and a curse, but it’s still going strong with plenty of impressive moments and potential.