Out Cast Theatre (Australia)
It's become something of a regular joy to have Outcast Theatre turn up each year at the Fringe with a new piece of theatre. The company has built a reputation for its uncompromising depictions of slices from real life with a distinctly bittersweet gay slant on events. However this year the usual frivolity of troubled romance and comedy has been eschewed from one of their shows.
In Monstrous Acts, Steven Dawson has woven a bleak and tragically beautiful re-imagining of the final days of imprisonment of one of European history's most notorious figures, Gilles De Laval, the Baron de Rais, as portrayed by Kevin Dee. However the tale is not his alone; he is thrown into a cold, dark and filthy cell, already occupied by the injured and stoic Sebastion (Mathew Gelsumini).
It's with Sebastion that the play begins, with a beautifully simply piece of physical performance as the bruised and naked youth cleans his wounded body with a bucket and sandcloth in the form of a balletic dance, in a motif that is repeated severally throughout. We see him shiver, wash, eat and touch himself alone before his relative peace is shattered by the sudden presence of de Rais who shatters the world of Sebastion in both a figurative and physical sense as he first bullies and molests him before being rebuked with equal savagery. Despite this inauspicious beginning, the two men find first accord, then pity, kindness and even love in the solace of their shadowy prison.
It's a finely-tuned performance by both men, especially considering that much of the performance is spent with both actors almost completely naked, and often intimately entwined. The brooding sense of unease built around the secrets de Rais holds from Sebastion keep the momentum of the play moving through the indistinct passage of time. Were it not for the simple fact that the initial brutality of de Rais and the revenge upon him is all but cast aside and unmentioned later, the play is a marvellously tight piece of theatre.
The grasping desperation of the romance is touchingly close and sympathetic despite the horrors that lurk behind the veneer of these condemned men, that it's entirely possible to forgive the historical inaccuracies of the story and be swept away in the darkness.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan