Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Crossing - Fringe World 2016 (23 January 2016)

Tales of corporate greed and malfeasance have always been a staple of storytelling in one form or another as people react to the inequities of capitalism and big business. But those stories appear to have taken on a greater malevolence since the Global Financial Crisis as countless lives have been ruined as a direct result of institutional incompetence. One of the biggest targets, of course, is the banking industry and it’s here that The Crossing sets its tale.

Stella (Taryn Ryan) is ‘corporate fixer’. She cleans up any mess the staff makes and ensures that damage control is effectively and rapidly put in place. But there’s been a leak to the media – a very damaging leak - that threatens the bank and highly placed executives. She is tasked to find out who the source is and to shut down the story… at any cost.

In this she is assisted by her colleague and mentor (Erin Hutchinson) and the barman counsel of Nick Maclaine who is attracted to the young and ambitious banking employee. As she interviews staff (a variety of roles played by Maclaine) Stella discovers an unsavoury truth that threatens her own future and spirals the situation out of control.

Billed as a ‘noir cabaret’ The Crossing also incorporates songs and a distinctive score composed by Elliott Hughes and played to great effect by Jackson Vickery on the Vibraphone. Great effort has been made to create atmosphere through the score, sound effects, and the lighting design. It is certainly a stylish looking and sounding production in the PICA performing arts space. I particularly liked the ever changing messages on the light box as if they were chapter headings of a noir novel.

The quality of the performances is also very good. Maclaine is a likeable presence as the barman dispensing whisky infused wisdom while struggling to keep his business afloat. He also gives his various employee characters enough distinctive characteristics to delineate them clearly. Hutchinson gets to vamp it up a little as a boozy lounge singer; a stern senior executive; but most critically as the mentor who is a key player in Stella’s descent into the corporate rabbit hole of deceit and greed.

Then there’s Ryan who graduated from WAAPA last November. She certainly looks the part of a go-getting executive, all sleek and driven, with hair tightly pulled back, heels and corporate attire. She exudes confidence and competence particularly in a long ‘interrogation’ sequence which is complicated by largely being sung-talk.

So all the elements are in place but the show didn’t work for me for several reasons more to do with the writing and conception.

The leak itself felt like a complete McGuffin. I didn’t know what it was, why it was so devastating that it prompted death threats, and basically what the stakes really were. That meant I didn’t understand what would drive Stella to committing actions that end up being quite excessive in the context of the corporate world. There needed to be something more than maybe she didn’t end up with a bigger office. She needed to be in direct personal danger but that was never explored. This felt like a cross between Michael Clayton and Up In The Air but the stakes of the former weren’t there nor the emotional heft of the latter.

Also, the key relationship was never established. A lot of time was spent between Stella and the Barman and that was perfectly fine as a subplot but the heartbeat of the piece is between Stella and her mentor. I never saw that bond in action to therefore understand subsequent developments which form the emotional pulse of the story.
Finally, I was confused by the overall tone. There were moments of comedy and shtick that felt jarring within the drama and noir of the world created. I didn’t understand what the boozy lounge singer represented other than Hutchinson gets to sing the more melodic songs which she does well. The senior executive with over exaggerated shoulder pads and demeanour felt like straight parody. Even the musical component didn’t quite gel with the tension of the interrogation scene undercut by song. There seemed so many disparate parts – comedy, drama, noir, parody, musical, cabaret – that I was never quite sure what ultimately this was.

Stylish to look at with an intriguing score and good performances this didn’t quite click for me with abrupt tonal changes that undercut the drama and noir sensibility.

Written by Finn O’Branagain, Directed by Kathryn Osborne, with music composed by Elliott Hughes, Musical Direction by Johannes Lubbers and performed by Jackson Vickery, The Crossing is a The Last Great Hunt production and stars Erin Hutchinson, Nick Maclaine, and Taryn Ryan and is on at PICA until 30 January.

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