Friday, 24 October 2014

Welcome to Slaughter - The Blue Room Theatre (22 October 2014)

Slaughter: the brutal or violent killing of a person.

A suitable word one would think for a production with overt horror references.

It’s a simple premise really. Two women drive along a dark road, stop, and something ‘horrific’ happens. I’m not sure what to make of that event but we’ll return to that later.

The play stars Jo Morris as Fawn (yes, a skittish, young deer in case we weren’t sure), Michelle Robin Anderson as the Rubik’s Cube-wielding Olive who is immune to spontaneous “I spy” road games, and Emily Rose Brennan as Perdita, the ‘thing’ they bring with them on the drive. They are all very good.

The set is excellent – a recreation of bush land; a car in two-pieces that is used to good effect; projection of a full moon and landscape; all creepily lit.

Add the provocative title and the promise of frights and everything is primed for a scary good time at the theatre.

Except that’s not what I witnessed.

Sure, I accept that trying to unnerve an audience saturated with all the tricks the movie world deploys in the name of horror is an unforgiving task. I also am led to believe many people have found it scary but for me this was far more a psychological piece with nary a shock in sight.

However, I didn’t know to what end and that prompted a lengthy discussion at the bar afterwards. 

Fawn and Olive appear to be running from something but the start is quite languid and I never had a sense from what. I liked how their ‘passenger’ was slowly revealed and there was some very nice work with performance and lighting in teasing out the ‘creature’ that proceeds to whisper in each woman’s ear. Suggestions, accusations, demands for action.

It seems this relationship of nine years is on rocky ground. They stop and again everything is setup for true horror – two women stuck in the middle of nowhere at night with something stalking them. Then Olive discovers, “you have brought us here before” and everything unravels. The creature is despatched by Fawn in violent fashion and they are free to continue their journey though not together as their relationship is ‘terminated’ as well.

The problem is I didn’t understand what the ‘creature’ was – their subconscious; their darkest desires? One person suggested that Olive and Fawn were different aspects of the one person. The “you’ve brought us here before” suggested that maybe it was a vengeful spirit of someone they had killed previously. Or was it all simply a metaphor for their relationship? Another discussion explored whether it was a commentary on mental illness.

To me it was far too vague and maybe this is the drawback of the devised method. They’re running from something, going somewhere with something along for the ride and when they stop something happens. These beats had to be better defined for mine. Especially if you’re claiming to navigate in genre waters as well established as horror.

I liked the acting, I liked the set and technical prowess but I didn’t know what it meant or was trying to tell me. So I was underwhelmed by the overall result. I wanted to see what the next twenty minute sequence would have been to illuminate theme and give clarity to the story.

In execution it reminded me of two plays - Delusions of Doubt and Les: Miserable - that were performed under the banner of Never Mind the Monsters at 2012’s Fringe. In those productions, however, the ‘monster’ was a clear representation of depression and there was none of the ambiguity here. It helped that the monster ‘plagued’ only one character – the time-sharing in this production muddies the water with expediency paramount rather than plausibility. It partly favours the dual aspects of one character interpretation. 

Slaughter: the brutal or violent killing of a relationship by metaphorical intervention?

Directed by Michelle Robin Anderson and Joe Lui, Devised by the actors and Jeffrey Jay Fowler, and starring Michelle Robin Anderson, Jo Morris, and Emily Rose Brennan, Welcome to Slaughter is on at The Blue Room until 25 October

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