Suzie Miller’s new play Jailbaby at the Griffin Theatre has been one of the most anticipated plays of the year, as to be expected coming from the pen of the author of Prima Facie and RBG.
This three hander, with multiple roles, is perfectly suited for Griffin’s intimate space that over many years has debuted some of Sydney’s most innovative theatrical works.
Like Prima Facie and RBG, Jailbaby draws on Miller’s extensive work in the legal profession and associated human rights advocacy, this time shining a spot light on the failures of the legal system to support those who fall into its grips.
Jailbaby opens with late teen and aspiring soccer player AJ (Anthony Yangoyan) acting as a driver for a home robbery masterminded by a couple of older dudes.
“Massive smart TV, MacBooks, iPad. Ka-ching.”
The robbery’s aftermath triggers the introduction of Seth (also Anthony Yangoyan) and his mother Mrs Rawlins (Lucia Mastrantone), who, along with husband Tom (Anthony Taufa) are the victims of the crime.
This begins the parallel arc between the two youths, their parents, soccer coaches and the legal system in all of its ineptitude and lack of care.
AJ’s slide into this abyss is rapid and harrowing and is met with indifference from the system that is meant to be working for him, culminating with his brutal attack in the cells.
While AJ is cooling his heels, we find out that Seth is not the product of the good family that we think he is as his duplicity of character comes to the fore and brings Jailbaby to its calamitous conclusion.
The use of three actors playing multiple characters can only work if there are clear delineations of roles and this is where some of Jailbaby gets blurred at times as nuance, physicality and voice are often flatly delivered with little more than a slight garment change for differentiation.
Director Andrea James lets too many opportunities to expand the many characters slip by.
When they are working best in character, all three shine, especially Yangoyan as a bewildered and frightened AJ about to enter the maws of an uncaring penal system, which also introduces the issue of homophobia within a closed male environment.
Jailbaby is a play about consequences, and in particular those created by failed familial, societal, legal and penal systems that are enshrined behaviour.
Isabel Hudson’s single set is a triumph in simplicity that works seamlessly as the backdrop to family homes across the social spectrum, holding cells and the claustrophobic and deadly jail cells.
Sound designer and composer Phil Dowling keeps both music and sound on a tight leash which adds much to the atmospherics and tension of the production.
Lighting designer Verity Hampson has chosen stark white light against perspex or centre stage for much of the duration, while introducing simple colour bands against black for the closing disco sequence.
Jailbaby is a dense and complex exploration of a society and its legal system that ultimately sets everyone up for failure. It’s a play that demands to be seen.
Until August 19
SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross