The idea of the outsider is, of course, a concept shared by all living beings; the jellyfish and the silverback gorilla alike have trained themselves to distrust a stranger. But there is something particular about the Australian suspicion of otherness, a ruddy and avuncular mask that hides an abiding, almost pathological, wariness. It’s a national quirk that Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel Wake in Fright – set in the fictional town of Bundanyabba, and based on the author’s experiences in Broken Hill – so memorably mined, and one that playwright Declan Greene milks to almost uncanny effect in his new stage adaptation.
Central to his approach is Zahra Newman, an actor with a seemingly inexhaustible range of skills, who here assumes the role of narrator, along with all of the story’s key characters. We have our protagonist – or chief victim – John Grant, a schoolteacher on his way to Sydney, who is waylaid in Bundanyabba; we have the local copper Jock, who offers the first beer and introduces John to the two-up game that will prove his financial ruin; we have the uncomfortably hospitable Tim Hines and his sexually available daughter Janette. Most disturbing of all, we have the ‘twisted and revolting creature’ Doc Tydon, who is here reimagined as South African – presumably white.