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Pymble Players: The Spook - Review by Trish Swinkles

It’s the relationship between characters that help to engage the audience in Pymble Players’ ‘The Spook’ - a historically-inspired venture into the world of backroom politics in working-class Bendigo of the 1960s. The wide-eyed young protagonist Martin Porter is swept up in the excitement of his growing role as an ASIO spy, ingratiating himself into the lives of the local Greek family, Elli and George Tassakis, and using their connection to the local chapter of the Communist party. It is only later, once the novelty of living a double life begins to wane, that Martin realises the true cost of information gathering and the audience is reminded that his story is only one link in a very long chain of deceit for the common good.

Director Casey Moon-Watton’s vision is evident throughout the performance to “...depict a fascinating era of Australia’s history and…the human relationships…” within. The play's slow beginning warms quickly as we begin to witness the connections the protagonist Martin forms within the small, multi-roled cast. Moon-Watton’s direction has allowed his cast to seamlessly move between roles, ably supported by a clever set design and lighting which encourages fast-paced transition between scenes. 

The role of Martin Porter is dynamic as we see his transformation from an innocent to complex individual who never quite loses some of his bumbling charm, highlighting his humanity. Martin’s naivety is conveyed so effectively by Cameron Drake as he deftly moves between bumbling idiot to a word-vomiting new comrade of the Bendigo branch and later a scared soul who fears his world of lies is unravelling. Drake maintains the quirkiness of his character throughout with a stage presence that calls the audience to squirm in their seats at his awkwardness, so suited to the character of Martin Porter who appears lost in his own skin as he further engages with his role as an ASIO ‘spook’.

His ASIO handler Alex (Brett Joachim) assists (or rather controls) Martin along his espionage journey. Joachim gives a very convincing portrayal of the 1960’s ASIO man who lures keen footballers mid-game with the thrill of patriotism. Joachim cleverly moves his portrayal of Alex from passionate persuader to disinterested confidante as he takes his young recruit on a secretive journey in search of ‘dirt’.

The roles of mother and wife, played by Courtney Farrow and Tida Dhanommitrapap respectively, add depth to the relationships within the play. Farrow’s Trixie Porter is suitably angst-ridden as her son dives deeper into communism, questioning where she went wrong as a mother. Whereas Dhanommitrapap’s character of Annette, aware of Martin’s secret double life, teeters successfully between concern and intrigue as she longs to become useful in her husband’s world of passionate lies. 

The interplay between Martin and the communist community is best represented by Kate Kelly and Nathan Heinrich in the roles of Elli and George Tassakis. Kelly and Heinrich work so well together as the migrant Greek couple, bringing their strong ideals into the Bendigo community and figuratively wrapping their arms around our protagonist Martin so much so that they are oblivious to his deception. We feel the warmth with which they welcome him into their family and vouch for him as he joins their Communist branch, passionately led by Rawdon Waller’s authoritative Frank Nash. 

The cast of ‘The Spook’ create such a relatable retelling of post-war suspicions. With an intimate, small-theatre experience and complimentary tea and bickies at interval, this Pymble Players production is a great night out for keen history buffs and those looking for the humanity behind the global politics of post-war decisions.

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