Set against the horrors of the anti-gay purges in Chechnya and brought to life by a team of (mostly) queer artists, Patrick Livesey’s Adelaide Fringe show asks difficult questions about the responsibilities we feel for people we’ve never met.
DIRT is a thriller about persecution and solidarity
South Australian theatre-goers may be familiar with Patrick Livesey through his previous Fringe plays That Boy, George, a one-man satire in which Prince George is imagined as a spoiled 14-year-old determined to reign, and Gone Girls, a drag revenge fantasy inspired by Julie Bishop and Julia Gillard.
DIRT is at Holden Street Theatres in Hindmarsh from 16 February – 21 March as part of the Adelaide Fringe. Click here for tickets.
This Fringe, Patrick returns to Holden Street Theatres with a new work, DIЯT, which ventures into much darker territory.
It also sees him share the stage for the first time with his real-life partner, actor Wil King.
CityMag: Describe your Adelaide Fringe show in 10 words or less?
Patrick Livesey: A thriller about persecution and solidarity in modern-day Moscow.
For those unaware of the persecution of LGBTIQ people in the Russian Republic of Chechnya, can you explain what has occurred with the anti-gay purges?
In 2017, the story broke that queer people in Chechnya were being abducted, tortured and murdered by Chechen authorities. During this time, the Chechen Government, led by Ramzan Kadyrov, not only denied the allegations but denied the existence of queer people in Chechnya altogether.
A second wave of these purges took place in late-2019 and there has been no sign from Kadyrov or the Kremlin that anything is going to change. Instead, the Russian Government, led by Vladimir Putin, has continued with gusto its campaign against Russian LGBT people.
This campaign has been waged for almost 15 years and includes a ban on queer “propaganda” (since 2013) and a constitutional change to ban same-sex marriages, passed in July last year. The purges in Chechnya, rather than being an aberration, are the logical and extreme culmination of this work.
How does the story of DIЯT unfold against this backdrop?
Our story takes place over the course of one night in Moscow in 2019. Two people, an Australian and a Russian, meet, drink, party and fall in love. Both need something from the other; both are keeping secrets.
With this play we wanted to tell a story about international solidarity and the responsibilities we feel for those we have never met. In the aftermath of the purges, queer people around the world banded together in solidarity for all Russians facing persecution, but what can be done from the other side of the world? And at what point does solidarity become just another post on social media?
DIЯT is asking some really difficult questions about who gets to tell a story and what, if any, responsibilities we have for people we’ve never met. In DIЯT, the anti-gay purges are a magnet for this Australian character, who feels the need to be there and do something, but why?
Tell us about the team you’ve assembled to bring it to the stage?
Wil and I have assembled a team of (mostly) queer artists to bring this work to life. Angus Cameron is our supremely gifted playwright who has somehow written DIЯT and a PHD at the same freakin’ time. MzRizk is a Melbourne-based DJ who is guaranteed to make the audience feel like they’ve burst into an underground rave in Moscow, and Matt Ralph is our gorgeous lighting designer.
Bringing everyone together is our mumma-bear director and resident heterosexual, Bronwen Coleman. B trained and worked for over a decade as an actor in New York City, working alongside the late-great Philip Seymour Hoffman, and is a life member of the Actors Studio, NYC. She’s now sharing her talents as a director with us here in Aus and it is an absolute bloody honour to be led by someone like her. She’s a genius. You can quote me.
It’s the first time you’ve acted alongside your real-life partner, Wil King – how’s that working out for both of you?
Dynamic! Wil and I have a lot of fun together and we also have a lot of very intense chats.
We’ve essentially worked together on everything we’ve done since meeting in 2017, whether it’s rehearsal advice, audition help or reading each other’s scripts. There’s not much we do that doesn’t involve the other. When it came time to actually produce and act in a play together, it just felt very obvious and clear.
We also come from two very different acting worlds, which is very exciting for DIЯT. Wil went to 16th Street Actors Studio, a very intimate, New York-style acting school (think Marlon Brando), whereas I went to VCA (Victorian College of the Arts), which is Capital-T Theatre training.
Over time we’ve learnt so much from each other about what “good theatre” can be and it’s really exciting to be putting all of that into the one show.
Why do you believe DIЯT is an especially prescient piece of theatre?
This is the big question, hey! I think last year proved to all of us on this little ol’ planet just how connected we are. Not only did a virus tear through the world in a matter of weeks but our collective responses and experiences suddenly felt incredibly global yet intimate at the same time. Like watching those people on their balconies in Italy or totally relating to Ellen in her lockdown woes.
It also gave us the opportunity to pause and reflect on some really big, important problems (hello, Black Lives Matter) and witness, largely in real time, the pain and passion of people pushed to the edge.
DIЯT is a story that has been born out of reflection on both of these massive themes. The world is only going to get smaller whilst the responsibilities and the scale of action required in the face of things like the humble climate crisis are only going to get bigger. What the heck do we do as citizens of this world? Do we retreat inward or do we figure out how to engage?
DIЯT is taking on all of this and it’s doing it in a way that is intimate and relatable for our audience. The themes are big but at the end of the day, it’s just two people figuring out how to exist together. And that’s kind of it, right?