Friday 30 November, 2018
Bottomless, by Dan Lee, premiered this week at fortyfivedownstairs, where its first reading was held in 2015. Directed by Iain Sinclair, Bottomless, which won the RE Ross Trust Script Development Award in 2014, is a lovely work: original, lyrical, unsettling yet gentle.
Ten years ago, Lee was in Western Australia trying to get sober and some of his experiences from this period of his life are given to his protagonist Wil (Mark Wilson), who arrives at the Broome Sober Up Centre with some inspired ideas about getting long-term alcoholics off the grog. Wil’s treated with a great deal of suspicion to begin with, despite trying to convince Centre Manager, Claudia (Margaret Harvey) how familiar he is with the cycle of blacking-out, sobering up then falling off the wagon. To be admitted to the Sober Up Centre in the first place, one must blow at least .15 into the breathalyzer, so those in need of a bed but who aren’t yet drunk enough are at a disadvantage. Wil finds himself helping in ways he hadn’t expected. And the cycle continues.
Opposite the Sober Up Centre is the Broome Prison. The two become interchangeable. The stage is bisected by wire walls and gates, standing in for the prison of addiction. The musical soundscape includes the sound of frogs in duet with thunderstorms. The image of ants recurs as a motif.
Bottomless explores the process of finding one’s way back to life, with allegory, with metaphor, literally and visually; the effect is visceral. And there’s wit.
One of the strengths of the story is its focus on infinitesimal moments, those when one chooses life. Small instances of change. Underpinning all is the big question of If “I Stop Drinking, Who Am I?” (And what happened during the black-outs?)
The cast of Bottomless is a wish-list of Australian talent: Mark Coles Smith, Julie Forsyth, Jim Daly, Alex Menglet: all are superb. As Wil, Wilson shows a depth of vulnerability. Uncle Jack Charles has a walk-on role as ‘Big-hair Pat’, bereaved father and elder. The character isn’t too far removed from his own life. Charles has been part of the play all along, as Lee sought him out during the writing process. There are parallels to each of their histories; the film Bastardy, the 2008 documentary of Uncle Jack’s own story of overcoming heroin addiction, has been a huge influence on Lee.
Dan Lee is a lover of language, a lover of rhythm and cadence, and this shows in Bottomless. He has an eye and an ear for theatre, moving away from linear storytelling and traditional structure. This work is a powerful debut and an original take on a complex issue, here sited in a community singularly affected by alcoholism, but presented always with the understanding of the universal nature of addiction. Bottomless is a magnificent start. Australian theatre is in such need of the kind of new voice Lee brings to the stage. Watch out as his theatrical career evolves.
3 ½ stars ★★★☆