Life is strange and living it is hard – especially if you’re actually a pirate whose been transported in time to the 21st century. This is the premise that Once Were Pirates revolves around. Presented by Gobsmacked Theatre Company (previous recipients of the Holden Street Theatres Award at the 2016 Adelaide Fringe), the play tells the story of Shane (Kyron Weetra) and Gareth (Joshua Mensch) who are as marooned in time as they were supposed to have been in the past. They must navigate the uncharted waters of what it means to be a part of the 21st century and the complicated space of trying to forge identities in a world where their old life means nothing. As Shane and Gareth try to understand the world they live in – boat people, modern pirates, call centres – they reveal just how bizarre and complicated life actually is.
Once Were Pirates follows Shane and Gareth’s from their get-rich-quick scheme of winning a million dollars in a game show, to Gareth’s acceptance of the need to fit in with their new society, Shane’s inability to do the same, and then the play’s bitter-sweet conclusion. One of the utter strengths to this play was the portrayal of Gareth and Shane’s relationship to one another. Even as they cavort and fight, their connections to one-another are undeniable. The play is staged in a small theatre space – less than twenty people would fit comfortably in the room – and this immediately helped to create a sense of intimacy between both the actors and the audience.
The parts of the play that became utterly entrancing to watch were when both character’s blustering fell aside to reveal raw human truth. Weetra’s portrayal of Shane’s struggle to deal with a world that scares him, an uprooted identity, and a fear of being left behind by Gareth was well handled. Mensch in particular was captivating in the play’s more serious moments; Gareth’s attempt to find his place in society and his difficulties in supporting Shane were raw and honest within his confessions. With such strong depictions of these attitudes, the reversal of their positions at the end of the play were all the more striking.
There are a lot of layers to this show – so many that it almost felt like not enough attention could be paid to all of them. Shane’s first monologue was especially intriguing when combined with the peppering suggestions of gender, sexuality issues, and masculinity – but with only an hour’s run time, most of the attention rested on opening up the ‘larger questions’ of place and society.
Once Were Pirates is a unique exploration of societal norms where the darkly comic humour is set against complex, serious, matters. It left me with a deep sympathy for everyone completely terrified while trying to function in our deeply screwy society, a question as to whether call-centres need to exist, and a desperate need to use the phrase ‘trifecta of fuckery’ as soon as possible.
Words by Taeghan Buggy.
Once Were Captains is playing at Holden Street Theatres every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, until March 11. Tickets available here.