Alcoholism is something that is not really addressed in Australia’s booze-soaked culture often enough. Considering that the amount of alcohol consumed by Australians (especially older Australians), it is something that probably should be looked into. In the play Flesh Eating Tiger, the concept of alcoholism is explored in a very intriguing way by also looking at the horrendous impact it can have on people who are, for various reasons, attached to alcoholics. Superbly acted and well written, the play is an intriguing emotional journey that includes the audience in an almost uncomfortable manner – so if you were after a light play about booze-filled characters, this is not for you.
Flesh Eating Tiger is not a play that follows a coherent, simple narrative structure. The fourth wall is shattered in a rather confronting manner about 5 minutes into the play, which is a surprise for the audience, especially on the back of loud shouting and a smashed bottle. From that moment forward, the play is quite engaging, as it follows a “play within a play” structure, and connecting the stories of a woman who is in love with an emotionally volatile recovering alcoholic. Not the most uplifting of topics for a play, but wonderfully executed.
The writing and direction of the play were incredible. Unlike some contemporary plays, which often include swearing and heavy make-out sessions that seem over-indulgent and uncomfortable, Flesh Eating Tiger manages to use both of these, as well as powerful imagery, to great effect. The dialogue feels very “natural” – that is, you can imagine much of the interactions actually happening between people who are emotionally volatile. There are moments of semi-comic relief as well, to help deal with the rough and raw emotional edges of the play. Although the husband element of the play could have been explored a little more (the poor chap was only mentioned in passing), it was still clear enough to piece together what was going on.
Not to mention some semi-educational bits based around some psychology of alcoholics, as well as an examination of the “12 Steps” (as well as a similar list for those who love alcoholics) – inspired stuff.
What really carried the performance was the stunning acting. Amy Gubana and Marcus Molyneux play the two mains, and Colin Craig is their silent third, dressed in black and acting as everything from guitarist to lover. The range of emotions explored must be incredibly taxing as a performer, and for Gabana and Molyneux to keep up with the swings in the play, from happy through to tense and explosive (and even an age jump through to a “grandparents” scene) is a testimony to their ability to carry through a performance. There were some slight nerves in the opening minutes, but considering this was opening night, it is understandable. Also, it takes guts to strut around in underpants on stage in a cool Melbournian theatre, especially at this time of the year.
Hats should definitely be taken off to the sound/lighting/props crew. The soundtrack worked seamlessly with the action on stage, along with the lighting – bright and illuminating when things were going well (smooth jazz managed to make an appearance), and dark and menacing when things were going sour (they even had a hanging light that made the room feel like a criminal’s basement – complete with ski mask and baseball bat. Overall, the mood was very much set by the solid lighting and good soundtrack.
In regards to the feel of the play, the best way it can be described is like walking on eggshells. After the initial shock of the broken fourth wall, the audience is constantly exposed to very raw emotion, complete with violent mood swings (from excited and happy through to enraged through to gut wrenching despairing). It leaves the audience in a situation where they almost feel as though they are in a “relationship” with the performance, and because of that, any sudden actions or noises (such as laughter at a gaffe) feel as though they could set off the angry “drunk”. The intimate atmosphere of the Owl & Cat Theatre helped with this – the small space meant the space between audience and performers was effectively blurred.
By the way, audiences should have more etiquette. It is not acceptable, unless you are otherwise directed, to take photos during the play. It distracts the performers (who soldiered on despite someone taking photos on their phone in the front row). A small row broke out between people in the back row over cameras as well – it almost threw the performers mid scene (and it was one of those emotionally trying scenes). So please, don’t take unnecessary photos, and if someone is, please don’t start fighting with them mid-performance.
Overall, a well written, well directed, and well-acted performance. Whilst the confronting content and nature of the play certainly isn’t for everyone, it is definitely something to consider watching.
Flesh Eating Tiger is on at the Owl and Cat Theatre until the 4th of June. Tickets are available on their website.