Review: Prehistoric, Meat Market

Elbow Room's Prehistoric is a stand-out piece of theatre.
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Grace Cummings, Sahil Saluja, Brigid Gallacher and Zachary Giles Pidd in Prehistoric. Photo by Yunis Tmeizeh.

Prehistoric is a stand out piece of theatre presently playing until Friday at the Meat Market in North Melbourne.

This exceptional show provides political critique, sassy comic sexiness and moments of breathless pathos – in short it is what the best in theatre can do. 

Set in the bare, undecorated warehouse space of the Meat Factory Stables, the four actors have only four chairs with which to conjure up the late Seventies in Brisbane. The four youths, struggling with the profoundly oppressive mainstream of Brisbane, find themselves united in the deep solace that the local punk band The Saints brings them. They form their own punk band. 

Winner of Best Performance award at Melbourne Fringe Festival, 2014, and Best Writing at the Green Room Awards, 2015, Prehistoric continues to boast a winning combination of pertinent writing and stunning acting performances by its new cast: Brigid Gallacher, Grace Cummings, Sahil Saluja and Zachary Giles Pidd. A special mention for the excellent and effective lighting design by Kris Chainey.

Prehistoric persists through its title to address a retrospective anxiety about the absence of history prior to the age of digital documentation. The play focuses on the sustained abuse dealt by Australian authorities to those perceived in any way a threat to the conservative Brisbane world. Writer/director Marcel Dorney dwells on the fact that prior to the internet non-accountability by corrupt authorities supported a culture typified by sexism, bullying, homophobia and racism. The four character’s in the play all describe in passing the name calling, harassment and workplace bullying that accompanied a typical day or night In Brisbane in 1979. 

On arrival in Brisbane from Sydney (a student of anthropology) Rachel briefly queries Deb on her witnessing of the police bludgeoning at a punk event, ‘Is it always like that?’ Rachel asks, Deb replies that it is and that the police make no arrests ‘because that would require paper work,’ ‘Oh’ Rachel nods suddenly understanding the underhanded nature of the brutality ‘Ah that”s why they all take off their badges, is it?’

Grace Cummings, Sahil Saluja, Brigid Gallacher and Zachary Giles Pidd in Prehistoric. Photo by Yunis Tmeizeh.

Zachary Giles Pidd reveals the taut body of a young man charged with feeling and potential but imploding in a society that offers him the riddle of conformity or rejection. Caught up in deep feelings of love for his friend Nick, played by Sahil, the writer reveals a time when homophobia was so all-pervasive that even those in love had no language with which to acknowledge how they felt. It is a compelling performance that Zachary offers in his acting out of the spectrum of Pete’s feelings – from the tenderness of a child turned to the wild hard-edged punk man who can fight off flying beer cans.

Dorney uses the punk era and local environs that sprang forth from Brisbane’s best export, The Saints, to describe the desolation that the young experienced in the face of Brisbane’s police force. The effect of Queensland’s Bjelke-Petersen government violent oppression of Brisbane was notorious, but what was less heard about were the lost children who didn’t submit. Rather with their resilient humour and torrential poetry of punk and music let it be known that they were not in agreement: that they felt lost and they felt trapped in a society that did not make any sense.

Prehistoric uses the punk idiom to scream some strong questions at the audience about alienation and why is that ‘woman-hating rich men end up running the world?’ Royalty, historical fictions of Australia’s ‘great past’, its cultural superiority and the veneration of the hetero nuclear family are all put up to question in the play’s characters’ dialogue.

The deep dis-ease that lurks at the bottom of the non-Indigenous Australian’s consciousness is delivered fast and hard by Brigid Gallacher, as the character of Deb, who suggests that the screaming royalism of the invaders of Australia still persists to distract from the distinct feeling that ‘we don’t know what the fuck we are actually doing here.’ 

Prehistoric is an excellent night out, which leaves the audience swept from moments of hilarity to sadness to shock within its 80 minutes of raucousness.

Rating: 5 stars ★★★★★ 

Elbow Room’s Prehistoric 

Cast: Brigid Gallacher, Grace Cummings, Sahil Saluja and Zachary Giles Pidd
Writer / Director: Marcel Dorney
Dramaturg / co-Artistic Director: Emily Tomlins
Lighting Designer: Kris Chainey
Creative Producer: Samantha Butterworth

7-26 August 2018
Summerhall, Demonstration Room, as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe

20-27 July, 2018
Meat Market, North Melbourne 

Amelia Swan
About the Author
Melbourne-based art writer and historian.