The power of expectation is a curious beast.
‘Confessions of a Pyromaniac’ is such an evocative title especially in a country where deliberately lit bushfires cause havoc and tragedy every fire season.
The poster is intriguing.
The synopsis I read online refers to a ‘recovering pyromaniac’; ‘confessions’ promises revelations and secrets.
All elements that are like dry tinder waiting for a spark to ignite them into action.
A spark that never comes.
Sometimes expectations can be misleading.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid play but it’s not anywhere near what I expected based on the title, the poster and the synopsis.
Sure, there is a phrase that is repeated a few times, “Light it up or burn it down” but that’s the extent of the pyromania.
Instead, this is a story about sibling rivalry and the conflict between talent and mediocrity. The ‘pyromaniac’ in question is Chris (Stephanie Somerville) who has lobbed unexpectedly at her brother’s place in Sydney. He is Max (Matthew Cooper), a published writer of children’s books who is having trouble finishing his latest fantasy installment. She is a washed out playwright who drinks too much and has no time for people who tolerate the mediocre like (according to Chris) Max himself and his fiancé Sarah (Katya Shevstov). Then there’s David (Calen Tassone), a university student and photographer who lives with Max and Sarah. He fancies Chris and she quickly leads him astray as she disrupts the normal state of these people’s lives.
In some ways this reminded me of Zak Hilditch’s feature film The Actress, famously made for only $700, where a disruptive force causes chaos in a shared house arrangement. Yet where the antagonist in that story was deliberately manipulative and calculated, Chris is more an annoyance that rubs everyone up the wrong way. She tells David he doesn’t need to go to university to unleash his talent and that he should travel the world instead. She is scornful of Sarah’s office job and most of all she mocks her brother’s writing talent.
She rebukes him after he (amusingly) suggests that they write together – his fantasy worlds full of dragons and her penchant for politics and violence unlike anything seen before! [Congratulations to the audience member sat behind my left ear who whispered ‘Game of Thrones’ in case anyone didn’t get the joke.] He constantly pleads to know “how it ends” and we discover that their dead father was, according to Max, a storyteller and is the author of the “Light it up or let it burn” phrase. Chris has a different interpretation on what their father was and blames Max for leaving her behind in Perth when he went to Sydney.
This is well acted with Cooper (also the writer) a charismatic presence; Somerville’s Chris both dismissive and impulsive; Shevstov’s Sarah a concerned and practical foil; and Tassone imbues the young university student with wide eyed naivety and sweetness.
The changes in the relationships and the power hierarchy, however, felt too abrupt and too clinical. Chris starts as the woman who always needs a drink in her hand to the one who refuses a toast as Max descends into booze and pills. Their diametrically opposite character arcs are almost too perfectly constructed. The angry rift between Max and Sarah felt manufactured to generate maximum conflict and David’s change of allegiances was somewhat jarring. This may be due to the fact that at only an hour’s duration it’s difficult to convey such seismic shifts organically.
The other query I have is around the Chris character. She may be the Amadeus to Max’s Salieri but there is no evidence of this until late in proceedings when she receives a paid commission for a new play. I never saw the talent that gave her the moxie to belittle those around her.
Having said that, the dialogue is good and there was much to like here including the acting and a sparse but effective set that looked like a typical back porch in some outer Sydney suburb. While the play was not what I expected it did provide an interesting look at a sibling rivalry that revolved around writing and storytelling and that is to be appreciated.
Confessions of a Pyromaniac, Produced and Directed by Shakara Walley, Written by Matthew Cooper, and starring Matthew Cooper, Katya Shevstov, Calen Tassone, and Stephanie Somerville is on at The Blue Room until 19 July.