I thoroughly enjoyed Monopoly a few years ago written by Steven Hopley, an entertaining play about how the game transforms the fortunes of ordinary people when stakes are raised to an absurd degree. In his new play, A Fortunate Few, he covers fresh territory when a homeless man named Mani is unexpectedly offered a job by a wealthy, successful businessman. It’s a contemporary version of Great Expectations with a completely unexpected twist.
At an efficient 60 minutes duration with no interval, Hopley wastes no time with expository waffle. Both the script and the acting deliver an easy naturalism with clean storytelling and direction. We are taken from the busy streets of Sydney to the boardroom to a lavish apartment over the course of several years, charting the rise of Mani as he literally works his way from the ground up, from homeless man to respectably-suited employee, eventually marrying the boss’ daughter and becoming a member of the board and heir apparent. It’s an extraordinary tale where some of the ideas might be far-fetched or a little out of Mani’s league, but this is theatre where the writer / director has the power to make anything happen. And that’s where the magic lies.
The cast do a fantastic job of giving dynamic Sorkin-style tête-à-têtes which was also witnessed in Monopoly. Just when you think one character has the upper hand, the tables are turned in a blink of the eye, mimicking the roller-coaster nature of rising and falling sharemarkets.
As Mani, Chris Miller does an excellent job of being sympathetic and engaging without resorting to cliche. He plays off Thomas Urquhart (Victor Kline), a smooth, well-oiled businessman that gives nothing away with his poker face and confident charm. His motives had me guessing right up until the very end (is he a ‘shady businessman’ or does he mean what he says?). Very intriguing!
Brendan Layton in the dual role as Councillor Gary Bryan and homeless man #2 delivers a cherubic performance, while Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou as Laura Urquhart is the classic ice-maiden and daddy’s little girl. These contrasts in personality were wonderfully written and executed.
The ending seemed quite obvious at various points throughout the play, but surprisingly it wasn’t. As the play comes full circle, it’s not money and fortune that separates the haves and have-nots, but the shocking realisation that the only thing out of anyone’s league is empathy.
A Fortunate Few played at Chippen St Theatre from 17-20 November. For more information about the writer’s and director’s work, go to https://www.stevenhopley.com/.
Images: Rob Studdert