A superb piece of theatre

By Bradley Storer

In Mockingbird Theatre’s debut production, the company has chosen an ambitious undertaking in staging The Laramie Project, the panoramic examination of the shockwaves caused by the murder of a young gay university student, Matthew Shepherd, in 1998. This portrait of a divided and terrified community’s reaction to a horrible crime seems eerily relevant now in the wake of the recent Jill Meagher murder.

In a sparse set containing only a collection of stage lights and eight chairs, the gifted men and women of the Mockingbird ensemble take on the roles of the various inhabitants of the Wyoming city of Laramie, as well as the members of the Tectonic Theatre Project who originally created the play, swapping characters at a moment’s notice as viewpoints and opinions weave in and out of the main narrative.

All of the text of the play is drawn from interviews conducted with the actual Laramie residents from the time of Shepherd’s murder, and the jaw-dropping ways in which the play unfolds in dramatic and unexpected twists truly makes the case for life being stranger than fiction.

In the first act, it felt as though two of the male ensemble (Scott Middleton and Christian Heath) were overloaded with different characters, and unfortunately were not always able to differentiate them enough to make them all worthwhile, while the other male members were left underutilized.

The women fared much better in terms of overall skill, with special mention to Maggie Chretien and Debra Low for creating great physical characterizations and generating palpable emotion in their performances.

Having said this, this is a fantastic production of a monumental play – the emotional atmosphere was electrifying and the simplicity of the set ensured that the audience was being undistractedly confronted by the reality of what was being said to us. The great power of Laramie comes from the kaleidoscopic collage of lives and personalities which emerge in every second of the play: the cast generating magnificent contrasts and contradictions.

The standout performance came from Tamara Donnellan, who imbued every character she presented with such life and vivacity that they all seemed entirely real even when they were initially unlikable – the most powerful sequence of the entire performance came when Donnellan, as the officer who was called to the scene of Matthew’s attack, describes with a heart-breaking mixture of sorrow, horror and confusion the state of Matthew’s blood-stained body in an almost Christ-like tableau. Joined by the other members of the ensemble in a symphony of sadness, it becomes all too clear that Matthew was not the only victim of the horrific crime, but all of Laramie as well.

A magnificently touching and powerful show, and a magnificent debut for the fledgling company which promises a tremendous future in store for them.

The Loft, Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Oct 26th – Nov 11th 2012, Tues – Sat 8pm, Sunday 6pm, Sat 27th Oct & 3rd November 1pm
Bookings: 0382907000 or
Price: $39 Full / $34 Conc & Groups 10+