Review: 5 Stars – Theatre Works (VIC)

Written by Jake Stewart, adapted by Dominic Weintraub, Jake Stewart and Joel Beasley

Review by Martha “MJ” Latham

5 Stars is a relatively simple story at its heart: two souls who love each other in different ways, cannot be without each other and yet cannot escape the reality of the pain that is destined to haunt them. 

Jake Stewart‘s story also involves two Christmas elves, a cherry picker, a documentary and some meta-theatrical comedy. The play is split across three worlds: the world of the original version of 5 Stars that was meant to be presented at the start of the year, the world of the real-life creators who made that play a reality, and the world of the obtuse; where the kooky, crazy and the fun can live.

When you enter the space, you are greeted by a cavalcade of items: a cowboy hat hanging on a tapestry, two seats with doilies, and a long table with scraps of paper and pencils. Each of these items is covered with sheets of plastic, until they are used in a scene where the plastic is peeled away the way one would with a dustcover. This creates the sensation that we are digging through old memories and creations. The lighting design by Harrie Hogan served its purpose well, though at times felt too present on the stage; as if the lights were a fellow performer. I did greatly appreciate the multicoloured festoons that adorned the space for both a Christmas and a house party effect.

The two performers (Jake Stewart and Joel Beasley) play all the parts, jumping in and out of character telling all of the stories as the play moves toward its finale. The performers were both telling the story of how the play was originally meant to go on, was later cancelled and has now been revived, showing scenes from that very play as they went. The actors were playing versions of themselves in the play that had been cancelled. At times, these moments did not connect narratively or symbolically and the performances did not effectively demarcate these two worlds. It was hard to tell when we were watching “real” Jake and Joel and when we were watching “fake” Jake and Joel.

This lack of cohesion made the play difficult to follow and understand, and many of the movements and scenography felt unmotivated by what was happening in the script. For example, a moment where one of the actors is raised in a cherry picker to a spotlight to explain what was to happen next. This moment, while funny and clever, took up a lot of time and didn’t add much to the overall experience of the play. A more egregious example was scenes of two brokeback mountain elves who loved each other but had wives at home that added, once again, a great deal of humour to the work, but didn’t really contrast or add any deeper meaning. I found myself scratching my head wondering how these elves had even ended up in the story in the first place. Underneath all of this however, the play did have real beating heart.

This was an exploration of how it feels to be unable to express oneself in a palatable manner, how it feels to love in a way that isn’t accepted. Not in the obvious “society won’t accept them because they’re gay”, but in a much more nuanced “the people closest to them won’t accept them because they’re odd, they speak too much and they can’t help but write poems upon poems upon poems about someone who doesn’t love them back”.

5 Stars at Theatre Works is a brand new work and it deserves your support. Not everything people make will be instantly palatable, and sometimes it takes a bit of effort to see the beauty. But if you’re willing to look a little deeper, 5 Stars is a work with a lot to offer.

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

5 Stars plays at Theatre Works until 25 June. Find tickets here.


Jake Stewart
Dominic Weintraub, Jake Stewart, and Joel Beasley
Joel Beasley and Jake Stewart
Harrie Hogan


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