Sunday, 25 January 2015

Sixty - Umbrellaco Theatre Company (24 January 2015)

The synopsis for this play states that it “follows the lives of four friends for the hour following a failed dinner party. It explores the idea of boredom and just how much can happen in an hour if you let it.”

The problem is that boredom isn’t an idea it is a state of being and not a dramatically interesting one. It’s difficult on stage (or in film) to play boredom with any sort of compelling momentum for an audience… by definition. Here the problem is exacerbated by glacial pacing. This had to be much tighter to keep the audience engaged. The long pauses throughout were deadly as were the slow transitions from one scene to another. The danger is that by attempting to represent boredom you induce it.

The set-up is that four friends return to their respective homes after a dinner party. Jess (Sarsi Elsberry) is drunk and amuses herself by taking a bath and ignoring her boyfriend Aaron (Jack Kennare) who tries to call her from his bedroom to apologise for something he said. Meanwhile, housemates Marley (Tahlia Norrish) and Casey (Tanna Wheildon) talk over wine and nibbles, mainly about Marley’s boyfriend Jason who’s in Melbourne and eventually a surprise revelation by Casey.

The stage is split into thirds with the bath in the centre, Aaron’s room stage right, and Casey and Marley’s living room stage left. The set is well presented with an authentic bathtub (bubbles and all), couch and bedroom. I wasn’t sure, however, what the linkage was between the Jess-Aaron non communication and the Marley-Casey discussions other than we are told they are friends but never see this and there is no narrative or dramatic overlap.

Another issue was that each third of the stage represented a different tone – Aaron was all emotional angst and turmoil; Jess was straight up physical comedy; with Marley and Casey more a drama of sorts as they chat. This became highly problematic as there was no tonal cohesion as we moved from one scene to another which in itself was an issue as at times it felt like a performer was waiting for their ‘turn’ to be featured.

At one point an Adele song was played on an iPod and we literally watch the four performers for some 3+ minutes doing essentially nothing. Might be great for a montage in a movie but here it was simply death. One sided conversations on mobiles are also hard to pull off on stage especially when we know so little about the characters as is the case with Jess and Aaron. What did he say that he had to apologise for? What are his issues? Who is Jess when she’s not drunk? Why do I care?

I had little to no emotional investment in the characters therefore when the Casey revelation comes it was hard to be moved by it, the same as Aaron’s big monologue that strangely ended the play.

For me, this needs to be far pacier and the Jess and Aaron characters in particular needed to show more emotional range other than ‘drunk’ and ‘angst-ridden’ respectively. Mix it up and make them three dimensional. I know Tahlia Norrish as a fine short film actress but she has little to work with here and Wheildon’s outbursts as Casey needed to be built up to rather than feeling like random actions as the script demanded. Kudos though to Elsberry for the physical shtick in the bathtub and Kennare did have an intensity that was good though his character didn’t earn the big monologue at the end. Unfortunately, this one wasn’t for me.

Written and Directed by Adelaide Buchanan, Sixty is on at Teatro 1 in the Perth Cultural Centre until 28 January as part of Fringe World. 

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