Typically Steve Hopley’s writing is tight, witty and sometimes delivered too quickly to properly digest. All his works however do contain a message, as does this production, but seemingly with a modern audience's limited attention span in mind.
The stage in this 45 minute one act play opens with Mani, a destitute man on the street (Chris Miller), who is fortuitously taken-in by successful entrepreneur Thomas Urquhart (Victor Kline). There’s banter between the two about how their worlds are incongruous, during which the job offered by Urquhart to Mani is eventually effusively accepted.
We then become suspicious as to whether Urquhart is a masterful manipulator by exploiting Mani’s backstory to present himself as a philanthropist, or perhaps he actually has a deep affection for his new ward.
There’s plenty of political capital and pedigree in this new play by the award winning Hopley, who also directs this production, showing for a very limited season at Chippen Street Theatre. Under the auspices of his Something Wicked company, A Fortunate Few basically deals with money, power and inequality amplified, according to the writer, by years of conservative government in Australia.
It presents as a powerful one-act drama, intimately premiering in this compact 50-seater. But there’s obviously more to the story that Hopley is either with-holding for later release, or merely hasn’t got around to writing yet. What’s missing are the twists and emotional tension and release that are found in Hopley’s Fear and Monopoly, admittedly difficult to achieve in such a short piece. Who really is the villain? Where is the hero? Perhaps that is the point.
Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou contrasts the mood with her stage presence as the delightful Laura, the daughter of the mogul, and perfectly depicts a young woman of privilege, while Brendon Layton plays a convincing dual role reaching across the social-economic divide.
Chris Miller has the task of evolving Mani from a street urchin into a successful businessman, undertaking a transformation that has the audience musing in his original naivety, but eventually questioning his integrity.
“I’m tackling the Thatcherite/Howardite/neoliberal myth that hard work is all it takes, when we know the hardest working people in society are often paid the least,” Hopley tells this blog. “Things have gotten far worse since then, of course, and Morrison's ‘have a go to get a go’ is a continuation of the same harmful nonsense, and now thanks to him - and others - we have unprecedented levels of homelessness, so it seems a good time to be having this conversation.”
A noble discourse, Hopley has also been trying to take this conversation to parliament, joining cohort Victor Kline to establish TNL, The New Liberals, a political party that fielded a number of independents in the previous federal election on a platform of being fiscally conservative but socially progressive. This production however should not be misconstrued as being a manifestation of political campaigning.
“Something Wicked is co-run with my partner Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou, who's not involved in my political work,” Hopley assures this blog. “Casting Victor Kline came later, and it was just because he suited the role and is great to work with. We met in the theatre and worked together several times before getting involved in politics, and he happened to mention to me just before this production came about that he was thinking of treading the boards again.”
While this then appears to be a bit of a real-life arc for Kline, so too does the story arc evolve for Mani. During his now charmed life, over time he finds himself challenged once again, confronted by a reflection of his past, and we wonder whether he has actually changed at all.
With A Fortunate Few, it could well be that Hopley has introduced the emergence of a type of theatre we haven’t seen in Sydney for a while, evolving beyond Short and Sweet. Deliberately or not, perhaps this is a type of ‘pre-dinner drink’ to be enjoyed at the start of a night, stimulating subsequent conversation at the bar after the show. It does get you thinking.
Something Wicked presents
A FORTUNATE FEW
by Steven Hopley
Starring Victor Kline, Brendan Layton, Chris Miller and Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou.
Directed by Steven Hopley
CHIPPEN STREET THEATRE
45 Chippen St, Chippendale
November 17-20, 2022
Thu/Fri/Sat at 8pm, Sun at 5pm
Opening night: Friday November 18
Tickets: $35 full / $30 concession / $25 preview
Booking link: https://www.trybooking.com/CDQMJ