Written by Louis Nowra
Directed by Alex Galeazzi
Starring: Kelly Butler, Gianluigi Carelli, Matt Dale, Ivan Donato, Anthony Gooley, Lynden Jones, Jill McKay, Emma Palmer and Sophie Webb
Shakespeare may have famously written ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’, but there is far more rotten in The Jungle than could ever be squeezed into that small country. But perhaps rotten is the wrong term. The Jungle, being revived professionally for the first time since its 1995 debut for Sydney Theatre Company is a mess; overlong, under realised and a mash of style and delivery that nearly had large portions of the audience slipping out at interval. At times it’s hard to tell whether what you are seeing is a poor script being delivered admirably or a strong script being merciless savaged on stage.
Taking Kings Cross as its muse, The Jungle intersects a handful of narratives about the lives and loves of residents of the famous Sydney suburb. Known for its drugs, sex and violence, Kings Cross should have provided boundless inspiration for some really interesting, gritty and surprising storylines to weave together to form a tapestry of this diverse neck of the woods. The results however leave much to be desired. Ridiculous subplots, heavy and almost clumsy dialogue (which at times does sound almost Shakespearean) and cookie cutter stereotypes (the whore, the junkie, the crooked cop, the dying gay man, the homophobic father and the slutty secretary all make appearance) all combine to create a dull and painfully two dimensional representation of an area known for if nothing else – its diversity.
The biggest shock however comes when you discover the talent behind this production. Written by the iconoclastic Louis Nowra (Cosi) and directed by Alex Galeazzi (original Griffin Theatre production of The Boys), this production of The Jungle never quite manages to capture the essence of its subject matter. Kings Cross still confounds in its ability to embody both the glare of neon lights, and the cheap veneer some of its shops, with the gritty realism of its down and out characters, back alley (though often curb side) drug and sex trades and the lurking sense of menace. Kings Cross is the dirt you cant get out from under your gaudy, bejeweled false nails and its this subtle working of style that this production completely misses.
The Jungle has nice moments and the performances are as a whole solid (special mention to Sophie Webb’s two show stopping characterisations and Kelly Butler’s solid if undersold turn as washed up rockstar) but there is no cohesion between the almost Method like intensity in some and the high camp of others. The staging adds nothing really to the production, there is a nice touch with the famous ‘Coke’ sign being reproduced as plastic cups stuck into a wire fence but the shell of a set more often constrains the action than enhances it. It’s too long as well, with a near two-hour first act but things do pick up (along with the pace) in the second.
It’s a shame because when you leave the theatre and wander up the street you are reminded of just how far off the world of The Jungle is from the goings on in that special strip between Macleay St and William.
You will love this if: you’re coming down from a Kings Cross bender and need a warm place to crash.
You will hate this if: you’re anyone else.
The Jungle is playing at Darlinghurst Theatre, Greenknowe Ave, Potts Point until 8th August.