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Reloading Loaded

11 Nov 2020

Reloading Loaded Image

By Rhonda Dredge

It’s some time in the ‘90s. MP4s haven’t been invented. Disco music and speed are popular. A 19-year-old Greek boy heads off for a night on the town. He refuses to be “white”. He wants to be a “wog”.

Ari travels to the north, south, east and west of the city, commenting on the culture as he goes.

In Richmond he discovers “peasant ghosts” and drugs. In Preston he picks up a seedy old guy.

As the night proceeds, Ari cartwheels through a series of experiences and reflections. His performance gets him a place as an influential “queer migrant” voice in university English courses.

Leap forward 25 years and Ari of Loaded has been reloaded in audio form for a new 21st century audience locked out of the clubbing scene by a virus.

The author of this seminal novel has moved on, having turned his analytical eye to other topics since – European politics, corporal punishment and Christianity.

But novelist Christos Tsiolkas is adept at creating a space, as this audio performance by actor Roy Joseph demonstrates, that still buys into the debates of today.

Tsiolkas’s protagonists are unafraid to express themselves. Ari can analyse the politics of his stance even when he’s out of it on drugs, dance and sex.

Tsiolkas collaborated with playwright Dan Giovannoni on the work and has updated the commentary to include mobile phones, the gentrification of the inner suburbs, new music tastes and the shift in politics from class to gender and race during this period.

The performance, which had been planned for stage in the 2020 Malthouse season, is fresh, vivid and, somehow, even more insightful with the benefit of distance.

Loaded was revolutionary when it was released. The novel was sexually explicit, passionate and critical of Melbourne’s dull Anglo culture. That divide still exists.

“I detest the eastern suburbs,” Ari said. They look the same – car yards and gigantic parking lots. “TV rules here. Swipe left. Swipe right. I make a pact with myself I will not move to the east.”

Such confidence had not been expressed in a first Melbourne novel, perhaps since My Brother Jack.

Listening to the audio file, which can be downloaded from the Malthouse website, brought back all of the excitement of the discovery that someone clever had dived into the narcissism of youth and found it invigorating and necessary.

Male desire drives Loaded into some sticky places, away from the brick veneer palazzos, concrete sprawl and wannabe America of the north, and into the clubs in search of something real.

“Little Ari is the only authentic prole left,” said Joe when Ari turned up at the club. “Yeah I’m keeping it real Joe,” Ari said. “You better check your privilege mate,” Joes replied, but Ari had already typecast him as a “wog zombie” for studying commerce.

The audio performance peaks in Ari’s rediscovery of kefi, a Greek term meaning the distilled experience of the urge to dance. The world is spinning. Ari has found his song but then it stops, like all good things, only too soon.

“I’m detonating,” Ari said, as he was coming down. Luckily he’s given the situation some thought and he steps niftily into analytical mode.

There have been just five moments in his life not clouded by ambiguity and regret, he said. He listed them.

First is the realisation that he is not responsible for his parents; second is the sight of Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire; third, the insensitivity of the west to the war in Syria; fourth, the blindness of the rich to AIDS sufferers and fifth, a definition of true freedom as “not giving a shit what people think”.

Loaded, Malthouse Theatre, from October 30; Reloading Loaded, a panel discussion, Wheeler Centre, from November 10 •

malthousetheatre.com.au 

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