Andrew Upton’s Riflemind is surprisingly only the second play from this prolific writer – but that’s because most of the others have been adaptations of classics or screenplays.
Riflemind was written in 2007 and produced by Sydney Theatre Company in the same year and is a grungy, often funny look at an ageing rock band getting together after 20 years to prepare for a comeback tour.
The play takes place over a week in the palatial country home of John, Riflemind’s frontman. The other band members arrive by helicopter and the tension from the start is communicated in broken stretches of dialogue where the characters interrupt, trail off and step carefully around John’s temper and ego. There’s also the decades of drugs, booze and fame that have taken a toll on the thinking and clarity of all the characters.
JOHN: And everyone was grasping and snatching and calling my name. It was like a fucking battlefield – a blizzard of flash bulbs crashing like hail into my head, sticking drugs in every hole.
It was the only quiet time I got to myself was shooting up.
One of the most touching scenes is when Lynn, John’s wife, has gone on a bender after years of their shared sobriety and he finds her sitting in the vegetable drawer of the fridge with her pants down around her ankles. It’s awful and should be humiliating, but John’s tenderness and acceptance of his wife’s frailty make it strangely poignant.
And then there’s the maudlin fact of their comeback tour, that they may all be past it now, that it might all be too late.
SAM: Life? It’s just lots and lots of little things, Phil. People throw the odd punch, till their grave sure, if they’re lucky. Dying breath, even, maybe. But the real defeat builds up slowly. Very slowly.
There are surprise denouements at the end of the play that make sense of the tension and rivalry that’s been evident from the start but they come too late for empathy with the volatile and selfish characters that make up Riflemind. Which I think may be Upton’s point: that no matter how far we run, we can’t escape the past.
Publisher: Currency Press
Characters: 5m, 2f