In the midst of an explosive discourse right now surrounding systemic abuse, Strangers in Between seems timely and fresh.
It’s now in the West End, after it was first staged in 2005 in Australia and then brought to London in 2016.
Produced by the King’s Head Theatre, this is the play’s third revival in London and it’s an ageless story.
It focuses on the character of 16-year-old Shane (Roly Botha) who escapes to Sydney from rural Australia after an abusive encounter with his brother.
Shane moves to Kings Cross – a rough area in the heart of Sydney known for its debauchery. Here he meets Will (Dan Hunter) and Peter (Stephen Connery-Brown) – who quickly become his replacement family.
Following a series of unfortunate events, Shane navigates a tumultuous relationship with his new urban family.
‘I’m not full blown gay, I’m just in Sydney’
It’s written by Tommy Murphy – the award-winning playwright who adapted Timothy Conigrave’s novel Holding the Man for the stage. It’s directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher, who is also the King’s Head Theatre’s artistic director.
There are some fairly niche Australian references throughout the play though. Unless you’re well-versed in Australian slang or cultural references from the early 2000s, you might have trouble following along with some of the dialogue.
From references to discontinued ice block brands to going down to the local bottle-o (alcohol shop), it’s full of endearing Australianisms potentially lost in translation for British audiences.
One such reference sees Shane exclaim: ‘I’m on my blacks!’ – a term to describe having your full, unrestricted Australian driving licence.
Nevertheless, it’s a gripping story with an immersive audience experience. The staging is simplistic, but littered with realistic Australian props.
There’s also a unique Australian sense of humor throughout, including a hilarious sex scene.
Playwright Tommy Murphy taps into a specific repressed universal gay identity. The character of Shane grapples with feelings of self-loathing and denial due to his sexuality but Murphy juxtaposes this with unique Australian humor when confronting this issue.
Shane jokes: ‘I’m not full blown gay, I’m just in Sydney’. It’s this expert level juggling of seriousness with humor that keeps the production engaging.
Strangers in Between is a coming of age story that takes the audience on a journey of a boy forced to grow up. And it’s more relevant now than ever before.