(unedited version of preview published in The Sydney Morning Herald.)
By Dianna Fuemana,
Directed by Jeremy Lindsay Taylor,
Performed by Jay Ryan.
Old Fitzroy Theatre,
20 April to 10 May.
$16 - $34 (for beer laksa show deal)
Bookings 1300 GET TIX
“One-Hander Job” by Benito Di Fonzo.
“That is definitely one to come and see,” says New Zealand born actor Jay Ryan, best known for his roles in Neighbours and Sea Patrol, of the multi-character sex scene he performs solo in Dianna Fuemana’s The Packer.
Ryan, who plays all eight characters in The Packer, has just come from rehearsing said scene in which an older Islander man engages in congress with a ‘gin-addled’ expatriate-Aussie named Joyce.
“It’s something that we’re working on at the moment,” says Ryan, “different positions.”
“He’s coming up with some crazy ideas,” says director Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, “I don’t know from where.”
The Packer tells the story of Joyce’s son Shane, a ‘white-trash Westie’ from the streets of West Auckland attempting to make it as a hip hop artist and escape a life packing boxes in a factory. By spending 24 hours in West Auckland through the eyes of this working-class hero audiences gain insight into the lives of those around him.
“He’s getting to that age where he wants to step up and live his life but he feels a responsibility to care for his mother,” says Taylor of the protagonist. “You get to learn a lot about all eight characters, they’re all multi-layered individuals.”
Ryan, who like the playwright is an Auckland ‘Westie’, has received glowing reviews for what one Edinburgh Festival critic called a ‘virtuoso performance’ of all eight characters, four of which are female.
“Well, three females and a trannie,” Ryan corrects me.
“That’s the challenge,” says Taylor, “to make them individual ladies. You’ve got to have the audience believing that it’s not a characterisation, they’re not stereotypes, they’re real, and they’re all different. It’s a tour de force for an actor. There’s not many actors I know who could even attempt this.”
While the original production was directed by the author, Ryan asked his Sea Patrol co-star Taylor to direct this Sydney debut, a mission that entailed a road-trip around New Zealand to see where the characters originated.
“A lot of them are based on Dianna and my friends,” says Ryan, “so I took [Taylor] to meet these people - my mother, a couple of my mates who still live in West Auckland and don’t really do much with their lives, but they’re still good mates.”
They devoted each day on the road to a character from the play, finding relevant characteristics in the locals, such as when Ryan found the template for his transsexual.
“I’d had a big night and I was just driving home, legally of course. On Edinburgh Street, which is the street where all the trannies hang out, just as the sun was coming up [there] was this huge black woman standing there right by the Edinburgh Street sign. As I went past she waved at me and winked and I went that’s her, so I’ve got her image in my head and that’s who I bring on stage.”
Taylor, who grew up in Campbelltown, saw much similarity between Sydney and Auckland’s ‘Westies’.
“The people were very similar, doing it tough,” says Taylor. “There was no difference but the accent really.”
“And a few more Islanders,” adds Ryan, who originally helped Niuen/Samoan/New Zealand playwright-performer Fuemana conceive the play as they waited backstage during a production of A Streetcar Named Desire.
“[Fuemana] was playing the prostitute and I was playing the young collector that Blanche seduces so we were on stage for like 10 minutes out of a three hour play so the rest of the time we sat backstage and ranted about family life. She had written a one-woman show which she’d won awards for and was really successful and I think she thought I’m going to give it another go but write from a different perspective. She wanted to have it from a white person’s point of view but still have the Islander culture-clashes and me being a white boy and giving some stories over gave her that freedom.”
After his experience in Melbourne and Edinburgh, where the author declined an offer by British filmmakers to buy the script and change the nationality of the characters, Ryan feels vindicated in the universality of the tale.
“It’s a love story and love stories work anywhere don’t they?”