As the world falls down: Montague Basement’s Telescope

Following their production of Hamlet at the end of last year, I wrote that it had been “a pleasure to watch Montague Basement go from strength to strength in their productions, gaining confidence (and audacity), finding and sharpening their voice.” With 2016 already well-underway, this uncompromising collective are expanding the scale of their productions and drawing new collaborators into their fold. Following his well-received Kaleidoscope at the Mardi Gras festival in February, Charles O’Grady spreads his wings to bring Telescope to the Sight & Sound arts program in Leichhardt, and the result is a disarming and thoughtful production which asks questions we should be asking, and does not pretend to have all the answers.

Telescope is the story of “two good Aussie parents,” Joss and Vic. When Jem, their eldest child, comes out as a transgender man, Joss and Vic can’t help but deny it. As Jem moves out and they fail to fit this new piece of information into the puzzle of parenthood, cracks begin to show in the structure of their sturdy nuclear family. O’Grady’s script is heartfelt and resounds with a large amount of truthfulness and honesty, and depicts the struggle to comprehend something outside of the parents’ circle of comfort. Some scenes feel drawn out longer than they should or need to be, while one or two others seem superfluous or not entirely crucial to the play’s unfolding. This is by no means a bad thing, but with a little bit of editing, streamlining, and seeing if there are any scenes that could be started later or left earlier, might help it become stronger, sharper, tighter. There is humour here, as well as heartbreak and uncomprehension, as well as overtones of transphobia, homophobia, fear, and a sense of failing, and it makes for rewarding if slightly uncomfortable viewing.
O’Grady’s script is performed by Caillin McKay and Shevvi Barrett-Brown, who alternate the roles of Joss and Vic over the two weeks of the show’s run; that is, the characters’ gender changes, while the performers’ stays the same. It’s a brave if slightly daunting move for a young writer/director and his two actors, and there were a few opening night nerves where lines were slipped or repeated, but the ultimate end result is rewarding, and by the end of the run should be smooth and well-worn. There is a stubbornness to McKay’s Joss, a determination to get things right from the start, even if it leads to further estrangement. Barret-Brown’s Vic is earnest and hard-working, desperately trying to keep an even keel on the turbulent seas of this marriage and the heretofore unchartered relationship with their son Jem. There are lies and half-truths which ripple through the play, deeper resonances which could be explored further without losing the heart that is already there.
Staged in the Leichhardt Town Hall, the stage is transformed into a domestic living room – dining table, couch, shelves, lamps – which seems innocuous until you realise that maybe it is in fact a prison for their marriage and relationships. Walls and floors have ears, windows remain open, and you can only hide so much before you are discovered, before the walls come tumbling down and you have to rebuild it brick by brick.

As the second work in a cycle, Telescope is a work of honesty and insight, charm and integrity, and it will be a pleasure to watch it continue and expand. Already it shows a writer developing their voice, wrestling with big ideas and important questions, and with a little bit of editing, ruthlessness, and dramatic shaping, this is the beginning of a voice worth taking notice of. 

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