The Spook, New Theatre | Review

Don’t have time to read the full review? Click here for a quick summary of the who, what, where and wine of this production.

Dry Aussie humour and a strong moral underpinning make for a raucous and introspective couple of hours at The Spook.

It’s 1965 and Bendigo’s local wing of the Australian Communist Party has been infiltrated by ASIO – well, by Martin, a young local who wants to do something for his country and hates the Communist Party more than anything else. As he comes to know the people he’s spying on, he becomes increasingly conflicted; but will he be able to fix the damage that’s already been done?

We’ve all been at the barbeque where one person won’t stop going on about politics, and this is the tone Director Rosane McNamara sets by allowing long streams of dialogue to run free one after another. McNamara ensures the technique is funny and relatable, rather than tedious or annoying, by layering each scene with cliched spy tropes like dramatic music and secret meetings with sun-glassed figures on park benches.

It’s especially important that McNamara sets this tone in 2022 because in the context of the current conflict in Ukraine, the characters’ experience as shocked onlookers of Russia’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in The Spook is particularly poignant and distressing. Although chock full of cultural references specific to 1965 regional Australia, Reeves explores issues common to any time of conflict or political tension. In particular, she reminds us that when subterfuge, secrecy and misinformation are involved there are too many casualties and no real winners.

The cast is whip-smart in their portrayal of caricatures of everyday Aussies in a tumultuous era. ASIO agent Alex and Communist Party leader Frank, the top dogs on their respective sides of the ideological divide played by Tristan Black and Mark Norton respectively, show how easily their black and white world views allow them to be manipulated into taking sides in a war they don’t understand. Meanwhile, Jack Elliot Mitchell as Martin initially gives off a goofy Maxwell Smart vibe, which changes to something more sinister as we realise his motivations are far more self-centred than we thought. Amid the bullish male characters, the women give a much-needed dose of level-headedness, particularly Martin’s wife Annette and Elli Tassakis whose empathy and intelligence are the voice of reason in scene after scene.

The Spook was such a pleasure to watch, beautifully balancing political comedy, Australian coming-of-age and creative production techniques to deliver a story both thought-provoking and uplifting. It’ll have you laughing, crying and sitting on the edge of your seat from beginning to end – but it’s up to you to say whether it’s because of what’s happening on stage, or because of what it says about Australia’s political future.

Wine Pairing | Riesling

I’ve chosen to pair The Spook with a Riesling because of its versatility and added sweetness out of appreciation for the heart the female characters bring to the story.

My pick: Lark Hill Canberra Riesling, 2019

This particular Riesling is dry to match The Spook’s particular style of humour, and features notes of orange blossom, fresh citrus and minerality that, paired with the wine’s high acidity, keeps it approachable even for people who usually aren’t fans of sweeter varietals.

Pick it up for $25 from your local bottle-o.

Tasting Notes

Aussie Season26 March to 9 April 2022, New Theatre
Ticket $$22-35
WriterMelissa Reeves
DirectorRosane McNamara
Theatre Type & GenrePlay, political comedy
See it if you likesmall-town Aussie stories, political humour, larger than life characters, stories like Bran Nue Day, Murial’s Wedding and Looking for Ali Brandi
Other InfoWinner of the 2005 Louis Esson Prize for Drama at the Victoria Premier’s Awards
Wine PairingRiesling
My PickLark Hill Canberra Riesling, 2019