There I was enjoying a cider at the upstairs bar talking to some local theatre luminaries when an innocuous question floats across the conversation, “what did you think of the production?” As you’re about to discover, I was quite impressed by the show and said so. Then it hits me, the person who has introduced themselves only as Sarah is… the writer of said play? Indeed she is. We then proceed to have a fabulous discussion including a ‘deleted scene’ re-enactment, the history of a beautifully written and performed sequence that nearly didn’t make the play, and a wonderfully awkward screenwriter-talking-to-first-time-playwright miscommunication over jargon, the gist of which was about how carefully constructed Giving Up The Ghosts is.
That writer, Sarah Young, is also a stand-up comedian so it was a thoroughly entertaining and interesting discussion, especially when the real life inspiration for one of the characters is briefly introduced and I discover that the stage manager is possibly on a one way trip to Mars (yes, really!). It pays to be a “straggler” (as Sarah put it) at the bar after a show at the Blue Room.
To the play itself - two people meet for the first time by a disused factory near the woods in the middle of the night. They have connected over the internet and have a terrible, shared purpose in mind. The 35 year old woman is Ruth is all wide-eyed, nervous agitation as she waits for seemingly affable truckie Steve to arrive. She has the chemicals and he has the duct tape to make sure the car is airtight.
What follows is a deftly written and performed character piece that has clearly defined ‘movements’ that inform tone and provide the context for the pairs’ interaction. There is the awkward phase as the two meet; a light comic sequence as they are interrupted by amorous youngsters with other things on their mind; a revelatory strand as the reasons for their separate decisions to be at this place bubble to the surface; and then the final sequence that exposes the ‘ghosts’ these two can no longer carry with them which is harrowing yet beautifully handled.
I said to Sarah I was intrigued how she was going to ‘stick the landing’ as it had to be handled sensitively given the undeniably dark subject matter but truthful to the characters that had been so expertly crafted and rendered. She and the actors, Georgia King and Paul Grabovac, thread that needle beautifully to bring a powerful piece of theatre to conclusion as the lights fade on these two damaged souls.
The set is very simple – a stylised ‘tree’ in one corner with two battered car seats centre stage and leaves scattered across the floor. What is really impressive is the rhythm of the play. The use of silence, awkward pauses and moments of reflection add much to the credibility and seriousness of the situation and the character’s understanding of what they intend. But there is humour and humanity here that elevates the whole endeavour.
When I was talking about ‘movements’ Sarah indicated she approached it as if someone was on death row - last meal, last words, last rites - and you can see this in conversations and actions throughout. But there is so much subtlety – Georgia King’s Ruth initially will not let Steve anywhere close let alone touch her so those brief moments of physical contact and who initiates them are critical as their relationship slowly changes. Likewise, when she tells a lame story and later a ‘joke’ they are pivotal character moments. Grabovac’s response is telling as the joke is exposed and doubts encroach. They both play off each other so well and their character’s traits and reasons for being there are expertly conveyed.
It really is an impressive fusion of intelligent writing and subtle performance. A telling factor is that this felt much longer than its 56 minute running time which is a testament to how well the writing, acting and the understated direction holds up – it never wanes, never loses your attention, indeed it is enthralling throughout.
Written by Sarah Young, Directed by Joe Lui and starring Georgia King and Paul Grabovac, Giving Up The Ghosts finishes at The Blue Room Theatre this Saturday, 12 July.