Bumming with Jane, written by Tahli Corin, is inspired by the work of German-American poet Charles Bukowski. Bukowski’s original poem, which shares the title of this play, sentimentally reflects on the freedom and simple pleasures that come with limited funds, minimal material possessions and baked beans.

Corin’s play draws on these ideas extensively, with its characters Jane and Patrick “choosing to live a free and ragged-arse life”. However, the narrative becomes more complex when this is no longer just a choice for a “free life”, but rather a reflection of poverty, self-destructive behaviour and a toxic relationship.

Jane, played by Alicia Selkirk, and Patrick, played by Stephen Schofield, are a young couple whose relationship is kept alive with impulsive decisions and erratic behaviour. They each take turns in finding employment so the other can enjoy “bumming” around their flat, despite the fact they are six months behind on rent; ultimately, their relationship is on the demise, as are their living conditions.

Jane and Patrick test audience’s sympathies as a trail of irresponsible behaviour grows and severe consequences surface. The couple’s landlord, Bev, played by Georgia Laity, is a well-needed voice of reason and provides comedic relief in tense moments.

Under the direction of Hannah Smith, all three actors give sound individual performances, but the chemistry between the cast ­– particularly with suggestions of a complex entangling of relationships – at times feels forced.

As Jane and Patrick’s life together unravels, the set feeds the sense of chaos. The couple’s world centres around a tired red couch that sits centre-stage. The boundaries of their flat are defined by wire fencing that is often seen around a construction site, giving a sense of precariousness and impermanence to the home. Overflowing rubbish bags sit up against this fencing, and milk crates serve as shelves. Empty wine bottles and dozens of cans of beans sit on every surface. As the play progresses, trash bags are ripped open, and the pair end up living among their rubbish.

The lighting and sound design, by Ricardo Parisella, suggests the characters dream of a future that is better than the present, even though their actions don’t always reflect this. Lyrics such as “The stars in her eyes” and “Let’s keep smiling” provide a painful sense of hope and delusion. A voice recording of Jane as a child, delivered by Macy Grinter, provides a powerful contrast to the music, as young Jane talks about perpetually “making a mess of things”; as an adult, Jane appears to be living out a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

Bumming with Jane provokes questions about whether there is any “freedom” in poverty, or if this is simply a romanticised, and slightly insensitive, notion. This exploration doesn’t always make for likeable characters who can be categorised as good or bad, but it does make space for important ideological reflections.

Bumming with Jane is playing at Holden Street Theatres until December 11.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.