VHS Productions' One Scientific Mystery or, Why did the Aborigines eat Captain Cook?

“But why did the aborigines eat Captain Cook?
It is unclear and the science is mute
The answer’s simple, that’s the way I look
They were just hungry and ate Captain Cook!”
 – Vladimir Visotsky, Why Did The Aborigines Eat Captain Cook?

Late on a midwinter night in St. Petersburg, Rhys returns to his freezing apartment to find his brother-in-law, Ben, unconscious and a naked woman about to jump out the window. The ensuing play is a little gem, by turns a comedic romance, a mystery, and something quite raw and beautiful, and it’s a play very much written from the centre of one’s soul, with its beating kicking heart on show, bared for all to see.
Playing at Darlinghurst’s TAP Gallery theatre, One Scientific Mystery, or Why did the Aborigines eat Captain Cook? is the first play from Victoria Haralabidou, and is about three people and their lives, played out over the course of a night, as they collide in an apartment; it’s about the moments we share with and glean from each other, the glimpses of someone else behind the person we see in front of us, the brutality of intimacy, and the unexpectedness of wanting to stay despite the odds.

There are many moments to love in Haralabidou’s play, and she writes with a boldness, a directness and a confidence that belies its debut-play status. Some moments shock and offend at first, the directness of the dark ‘Russian’ humour startling and confronting, but as Haralabidou brings you back from the edge, gives you the end of the moment, the punchline if you will, it’s often hard not to find yourself smiling, laughing out loud at its strange mix of the surreal and the profound. Other moments are shot through with a deftness and a subtle beauty that reveals a tenderness barely hidden beneath its rawness, and it’s in moments like these that the play sings, shines with a bright iridescence.
The performances, too, are all tremendous. As Rhys, Aaron Jeffrey initially comes across as brusque, abrupt, rude and arrogant, but as he mellows and gets to know Doosia (Haralabidou), we see another, more gentle, protective and compassionate man emerge. It could seem, to some, indulgent, for a playwright to star in their own play, but as Doosia, Haralabidou is mesmerising. Her earlier scenes, characterised by a fierceness and a strong indignation, soon give way (albeit with some reluctance) to a Doosia who beguiles and enchants; when she and Rhys talk over a bottle of mulled wine, there is a youthfulness and a deceptive girlishness, a capriciousness about her which belies her age, while at others, especially towards the end of the play, there are glimpses of a Doosia who has seen much, the weight and toll of experience and livedness writ large in her eyes. It is to Haralabidou’s credit that these two seemingly disparate versions of her character sit so cohesively, so believably, side by side, together. As for Ben, played by Dallas Bigelow, he spends most of his time either off-stage or asleep on the floor of the kitchen. When he does wake up, he is full of a drunken swagger and an apologeticness which soon sours and fades; perhaps, we realise, there was a reason why he stayed off-stage.
By the play’s end, it’s not so much that the happily-ever-after never comes, but rather that the ending sits justified in and of itself and by everything that has happened before it; you leave the little theatre with a warmth and an affirmation in human-kind’s faculty to look after and care for each other amongst all the shit. And maybe, in the silences in our conversations, there are angels listening in, just outside the window…

Theatre playlist: 10. Why Did The Aborigines Eat Captain Cook?, VulgarGrad

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