THEATRE – Mortido – State Theatre – Playhouse – 3.5K

Tom Conroy and Colin Friels - image by Shane Reid

Tom Conroy and Colin Friels – image by Shane Reid

By Peter Maddern

Angela Betzien’s crime thriller set in Sydney carries all the hallmarks of that town; its loud, gritty, grim and grotesque as well as great entertainment.

Monte (Renato Musolino) is a drug dealer on the up who sees an opportunity when the local drug lord / matriarch faces imminent death from cancer. To advance his plans he enrols his wife’s younger brother, Jimmy (Tom Conroy), to do the dirty work. But as the pressure grows, he sees a life beyond for both himself, his sister, Scarlet (Louisa Mignone) and her child, Oliver (Calin Diamond). To make that ambition happen, he turns to Detective Grubbe (Colin Friels), a cynical and manipulative copper on the cusp of retirement who is also looking to go out with a big scalp on his resume. All the while, the mortido – the death wish – for those involved in the trade both grows and becomes more apparent to the audience.

As the writer notes in the program, crime stories haves become big business in the performing arts – television and film in particular – in the last 30 years (though not as big unfortunately as the commerce they relate to). Hollywood seems to turn out endless tales of punks and police going at each other and themselves (the excellent Black Mass, currently showing is just the latest in that line) and Australian productions have also honed in on the genre with Animal Kingdom perhaps the best of those on the silver screen.

Translating the freedoms of film to the stage is a challenge that Betzien and director Leticia Cáceres have pursued with enthusiasm utilising a wide open stage that possesses a reflective rear screen and sink area on the left. There we are transported somewhat effortlessly not only around Sydney but to Mexico and elsewhere in South America. The aggressive modern style also embraces over lapping scenes as they transition. All this is fairly successfully executed by the cast though some confusion breaks out in the last quarter of the evening.

Friels dominates the players with a role he seems ideal for; he’s tough, wizened and uncompromising in his goals and amongst the grime we almost wish him to succeed. Tom Conroy has the most challenges which he masters with aplomb – a man torn between innocence, ambition, family, illicit love and regret. At the end he seems almost as exhausted as we have become watching the pain and emotion he has endured.

This joint State Theatre / Belvoir production is ambitious and compelling viewing sure to enthral those with a healthy passion for modern crime thrillers.

Kryztoff Rating   3.5K

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