Sean Rees-Wemyss, Joe Petruzzi and Danielle Carter in Fury at Red Stitch.

Photo: Teresa Noble

Fury, by Joanna Murray-Smith, Red Stitch

Until July 1

Joe Petruzzi and Danielle Carter in Fury at Red Stitch.

Photo: Teresa Noble



Cameron Woodhead

Since 2011 one of Australia's most successful playwrights, Joanna Murray-Smith, has teamed up with Red Stitch to premiere new work. That she sees the company as a safe pair of hands (Murray-Smith freely admits to being a bit of a control freak) is a compliment to them.

It's also a boon to theatregoers, who get to experience viable main-stage fare brought to life with the intimacy and histrionic skill of a dedicated Actors Theatre.

Fury is interesting because it takes the black social satire and swinging domestic drama Murray-Smith does so well and gives them a thriller-type gloss.

A mosque has been vandalised by two private schoolboys, Joe (Sean Rees-Wemyss) and his mate Evan. At first, Joe's parents – award-winning medical researcher Alice (Danielle Carter) and novelist Patrick (Joe Petruzzi) – refuse to believe their son is responsible. Evan must be to blame: his parents (Chris Connelly and Shayne Francis) are a bit bogan (their son was at the school on a sports scholarship), and probably racist.

After talking with assistant principal Warren (Dushan Philips), there can be no doubt. Joe not only committed the crime, he was almost certainly the ringleader. He is, however, insulated from responsibility by privilege. The mosque refuses to press charges, and the school looks set to be lenient, given the wealth and prominence of Joe's parents.

The burning question is: why did Joe do it? As he justifies the attack through conservative ideology to his distraught and baffled mum and dad, the chasm between left and right, bleeding hearts and bottom lines is laid bare.

It's a play that grapples with the nature of extremism, with parental responsibility, that of teachers, and the limits to them, while deftly exposing the fault lines that make most culture wars so internecine.

Battle lines are drawn and the stakes are high, for the terrible prospect looms that Joe will do something much worse.

The production boasts a strong ensemble performance. Petruzzi and Carter are sharply credible as rich, inner-urban Guardian-istas, their anguish and their prejudices, their resentments and vulnerabilities – and the patina of moral vanity about them – come vividly to life, and they're well-matched by the contrast with Connelly and Francis, who achieve a similar feat as a no-frills working-class couple.

Philips is smooth as the teacher, combining good and bad education in tantalisingly undecidable quantities, while Rees-Wemyss takes on a negative energy as the boy at the centre of things.

And the design – with foreboding music and swift scene changes enabled by a moveable curtain – imbues the production with pace and suspense.

In Fury, Murray-Smith has crafted a timely and well-turned issues play, with enough realism and psychological drama, enough of the tissue of life, to move, unsettle and entertain. It's a pleasure to see it done justice.

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