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jailbaby @ sbw stables theatre

Anthony Taufa, Anthony Yangoyan. Pic Clare Hawley
Lucia Mastrantone, Anthony Taufa. Pic Clare Hawley

Stories of wrongful imprisonment and unexplained ‘deaths in custody’, have haunted our shores for decades.  What rational alternatives are there? Can we re-invent smarter and more humane policing?  More productive and less damaging legal choices?   Can we think outside the “Lock ‘em up” box?

Suzie Miller’s provocative new drama, JAILBABY (a kind of sequel to her highly successful play, ‘Prima Facie’, currently on Broadway), has us questioning how this bestial, outrageous behaviour is still able to exist in our prison systems.  And how a naive 18 year old footballer can do time for very little crime.

The play had a sold out season last year at the Stables from July 7th to August 19th.  It has returned this January through popular demand.

Our protagonist, AJ, (played with formidable energy and passion by Anthony Yangoyan), is keeping bad company and is caught (without head stocking on) leaving a break and enter wearing a stolen signed Socceroos jersey.  His more sinister two friends, Excel and Dragon, who have instigated this theft, escape without arrest.

The three wonderful actors in ‘JAILBABY’:  Anthony Yangoyan, Anthony Taufa and Lucia Mastrantoni play multiple characters with impressive pace and emotional strength.

Yangoyan plays AJ and a parallel character, Seth. Seth is a spoilt, privileged outsider.  (A contrast to AJ, who was brought up in council housing with a single mother.)  Seth, an obsessive gamer, sells his Ritalin at school, saving money for more gaming in Japan. Seth’s family make sure he escapes the justice system. It is his house that has been robbed.

Legal aid to AJ, Olivia, (Mastrantone), suggests that he take a plea bargain and give up his two accomplices to avoid prison.  He believes he is innocent.   He can’t change his mind as he and his mother’s lives have been threatened if he opens his mouth.   From here on, his fate is sealed.

The ensuing scenes are horrific for AJ, made worse by an unspeakably brutish inmate.  Miller has written vivid scenes for a reason.  They are luckily short-lived but have a big impact on the audience for various reasons.  

The Director, Andrea James, says of Miller, “Ground down by over a decade defending young people in a flawed and inhumane justice system, Suzie shines a light into the darkest corners of incarceration and rigid class systems that entrap us all.”   

Isabel Hudson’s set and costumes were simple but effective for so many character changes.  Verity Hampson’s lighting helped define the different scenes and ambience on the tiny triangular and charming Stables’ stage.

Phil Downing’s sound design was very dramatic.  A variety of paced drum beats which mostly worked to the rhythm of AJ’s rap-like monologues.

The actors worked extremely well together.  The change of accents for different characters is not easy for them but was effective.  Perhaps the occasional voice over could’ve worked dynamically with double character dialogue.

JAILBABY plays the Stables Theatre until January 21st, 2024.  It is a stimulating play,  with Miller’s interesting dialogue techniques and lots of energetic monologues.

Featured image : Anthony Yangoyan, Lucia Mastrantone. Pic Clare Hawley


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