Craig Morris. (image supplied)
(Spoiler warning – watch before reading.)
Since watching Agony five days ago, it has repeatedly seeped into my mind. It’s a quiet, still, and distilled work of theatre that at the time I felt had no punch… now realising its lingering effect, I know there wasn’t a slap in the face, but a cold knife to the gut.
The story line, briefly: Malcolm (Craig Morris) has barricaded himself in his room, too afraid to leave. It becomes clear he’s a damaged man. And it appears he’s been locked in there alone for quite a while.
Well, not alone. His five or six or seven cats (all creative puppetry by Jenni-lee Crewe) are his friends, and he has a special relationship with each one. Almost obsessive about making sure they’re eating and checking where they are, he cares greatly for them; he loves them. His fixation with caring for them is a manifestation of him reversing the dangerous parenting he experienced… and it’s deeply touching to witness this man, hurt so badly, showing only love.
Agony is one of those masterfully written scripts. Nothing is overtly stated. Through Malcolm’s naïve eyes we learn what’s happened to him. It’s unclear if he truly understands the significance of his childhood experiences… in his telling, he seems to know he’s effected but it’s as if he’s normalised the abuse to squash down the memories and deny the trauma. Of course, the effects fester and take their toll. It’s tragic.
He doesn’t tell us his father beat his mother. He tells us about his favourite dolphin bathroom curtain and then later about the “red specks against the blue dolphins” – the blood covered the dolphins’ eyes so he cleaned it so they could see again.
He doesn’t say he witnessed his father cheating; he says dad was behind her but he couldn’t tell if she was smiling or not. Morris’s delivery of this line made me believe the woman was being raped by his father.
Malcolm doesn’t tell us he was raped. Through a climactic cacophony of side-by-side entangled stories, he tells of his childhood rise in tennis playing under the pressure of his abusive father, and about the tenor at the theatre (where his mom was a chorus girl) who made Malcolm use his tiny fingers to ‘help’ him zip up his pants. It’s frightening. And writing this now leaves me sick.
Male rape is so seldom dealt with – in stories, in theatre, in life. The humiliation the victims suffer at the cruel hands of a patriarchal culture means a massive proportion of victims don’t report the crime. Young Malcolm doesn’t; he’s too scared he’ll be in trouble with his father. And the buried trauma drives him to a tragic end.
Oh, that steely blade keeps digging in… Agony is something else. Craig Morris is, as always, exceptional. Just go see it.
— Sarah Roberson
Agony is on tomorrow 06 July at 22.00 at the Gymnasium. Bookings here.
Director: Megan Willson
Written By: Conceived by Greg Melvill-Smith & Doug Thistlewhite. Written by Iain Paton.
Puppetry design: Jenni-lee Crewe
Company: Thistle Productions