Saturday, 23 July 2016

Frankenstein - Second Chance Theatre (22 July 2016)

The Gothics Trilogy comes to an epic conclusion with Second Chance Theatre’s Frankenstein, faithfully adapted from the classic Mary Shelley novel. The trio of plays has been a huge undertaking for the three theatre companies operating under the banner of Murdoch University’s Nexus Theatre. Yet Frankenstein ratchets up the scale and ambition to audacious heights. A cast of over 20, use of a full size puppet horse, sumptuous costuming, and the evocative lighting of the multi-level set are hallmarks of this two hour fifteen minute production.

At the centre of it all is Scott McArdle who not only adapted the novel, directed the production and plotted the lighting design but was pressed into service in the lead role. This was after the original actor pulled out in unfortunate circumstances only a month before opening night. To say this was a Herculean effort on McArdle’s part would be a massive understatement. Bruised, battered, and exhausted after the show, he was looking forward to well-deserved sleep before doing it all again for closing night. You can’t help but admire the tenacity, multi-disciplined talent, and sheer moxie to even attempt a show like this.

I’ll start with some thoughts on his adaptation with the confession that I have not read the novel…

The story is told in flashback, the framing device being an encounter between Victor Frankenstein (McArdle) and Captain Walton (Rhianna Hall) on a ship stuck in polar ice. The change of gender for Walton works well as Hall plays the hard-nosed sceptic with sharp tongued flair.

The tale that is revealed by Victor is an expert psychological profile of a man driven to achieve greatness but is derailed by hubris and unchecked ambition. The Creature of his making is a torment that brings death and destruction to those closest to him. We understand the genesis of Victor’s obsession – the death of his mother trampled by a horse is the significant catalyst that prompts him to delve ever further into arcane studies. Indeed, the turning points are all beautifully crafted – the failed first attempt to resurrect a life; the ultimate success that turns into ash when both he and the Creature realise what he has done; the Creature’s journey to eventual murder; and Victor’s thirst for vengeance.

That’s another key element. This is no mindless monster on the rampage. Frankenstein’s Creature (Laughton Mckenzie) is literate and capable of learning and emotion but bedevilled by the reaction to his hideous appearance. He also wants a companion like himself; a request Victor ultimately spurns which leads to his world crashing around him as the Creature kills his friend Henry (Launcelot Ronzan) and most maliciously, his new bride Elizabeth (Shannon Rogers). This is after accidentally killing Victor’s younger brother William (Toni Vernon) then later a blind man and his daughter (Alex McVey and Abbey McCaughan). All the while the bloodied ghost of Victor’s mother (Izzy McDonald) spurs Victor on to more heinous deeds. The creator and his monster are a well-matched pair of dysfunctional and traumatised souls.

Mckenzie is a menacing physical presence both in stature and the makeup that indicates the stitches holding together the Creature’s reanimated form. He picks the slight McArdle up like a rag doll which, in its way, is more shocking than all the blood and gore on display. He had a tendency though to shout too often which was an issue for several of the performers in the more heightened of scenes. His primeval screams however, especially after his ‘birth’, were harrowing.

Other performers of note – Shannon Rogers is a luminous Elizabeth, beautifully costumed, and portraying an elegant and confident young woman with style; Ellin Sears is always a dependable presence in every production I see her in at Murdoch and her family maid Josephine is given quite a complex and tragic arc; Hall as mentioned imbues the Captain with swagger aplenty; and Ronzan is likeable as the faithful friend with a surprising twist.

German born Jenia Gladziejewski is the strict Professor who sets Victor on his path to greater learning and it was interesting to hear the actress after the show indicate she had to exaggerate her natural accent to make it more ‘Germanic’. Rhys Hyatt and Stephen Platt have scene stealing secondary roles as the fussy butler De Lacey and grotty Landlord respectively.  

There were some elements that didn’t quite work. The score by Drew Krapljanov did add tension in its more discordant moments but too often scenes were undercut by the contrasting atmospheric mood music sitting under the action. It felt like the emotion was being reinforced at the expense of the inherent potential for conflict. That leached away tension and for an already long play tended to give the impression of a statelier pace. While the lighting design has been a highlight of all three plays there were times when actors were cast in shadow, on the periphery stage left, in key scenes especially in the latter stages. The first half ends somewhat abruptly and the change of POV to the Creature at the beginning of the second half slowed the momentum built up to that point.

The overall impression one is left with, however, is one Victor Frankenstein himself might appreciate – the drive and ambition to create a theatrical behemoth that must surely be the biggest undertaking to date at the Nexus Theatre and one that will go down as a landmark moment and suitable punctuation point to conclude the Gothic Trilogy.

The final show is on at 7.30pm 23 July at the Nexus Theatre on the Murdoch University campus. Given the full house last night I would book now!  

Friday, 22 July 2016

The Ruby Red Fatales - Paper Haus (20 July 2016)

Garters, guns, Nazis, and jazz - what more could you want in this musical comedy romp where ‘Allo ‘Allo meets Cabaret? The former is supplied in a script by Heather Jerrems (who also directs) where, amongst other things, a woman poses as a man who poses as a woman to infiltrate a crack unit of Nazi assassins who are ordered to take down an American trained unit of burlesque dancers-cum-assassins. At the end of the second act when the silliness is at its height there are more guns onstage than at a Republican National Convention. The latter comes courtesy of some slinky outfits for our heroines and a cracking jazz quintet made up of WAAPA students. The venue itself, the intimate Ellington Jazz Club, provides the atmosphere.

Two key ingredients make this work – the show knows exactly what it is and plays up to the absurdity; and there is an impressive level of musicianship and vocal chops you wouldn’t necessarily expect for such a deliriously over-the-top confection.

To wit, the band of Harry Josland (trumpet), Joshua Cusak (double bass), Matthew Salt (saxophone), Oscar van Gass (drums), and Thomas Freeman (guitar) sounded right at home in Perth’s premier jazz venue. They also added a few sight gags of their own behind the performers in the tight stage space. You have the impression that they would have happily kept playing through the night. The audience would have happily kept listening. The smooth musical arrangements by Alex Turner added a touch of class.

The vocal talent headlined by sweet-voiced Cindy Randall and a brassy Sinead O’Hara was excellent. It also matched their characters to a tee. Randall was the fresh-faced innocent who becomes the main player in the battle between swastikas and stockings, guns drawn. Her Gina firstly becomes the improbably named burlesque tyro Miss Titties before assuming the male identity of Heimlich. Much humour is made of her/his appearance as confusion reigns and romance blooms. O’Hara is the leader of the Fatales as Miss Ruby and she embraces a take no prisoners approach to the role in a feisty performance. Emelia Peet is the third member of the troupe as Miss Scarlet, the faithful sidekick to Ruby. Peet has a couple of funny solo moments sending up advertisements of the period.

Their foes are the band of Germans headed up by Manfred (Brett Peart) and his mismatched assassins, Jurgen (Adam Droppert) and Klaus (Ryan Hunt). Jurgen falls for Gina/Miss Titties while Klaus falls for Manfred’s manly facial hair. Yes, there is bromance to go along with the romance. The outrageously kitsch I Don’t Just Need A Beard, I Need Two is a highlight. That it comes in the middle of the best sequence of the show is testament to a fine start to the second act. The duet between Randall and Droppert - When At War, Fall In Love – was not only the best song but performed with such joy and chemistry. Randall’s smile was incandescent. O’Hara replies after the follicle folly of Manfred and Klaus with a snarling Ultimateum; the sequence capped off by a beautifully sung and plaintive What’s It Going To Feel Like? by Randall. From there it’s all standoffs and conflicted loyalties as the climax gets a little messy but by then I was happy to forgive such excesses.

I can see why this reportedly did so well at Fringe World earlier in the year. It’s the perfect sort of fare for a couple of hours at a good venue having a drink and, in my case, one of their pizzas, while watching a talented cast and band frolic and play on stage. It’s funny, more than a little sexy, and showcases some serious talent. 

Written and directed by Heather Jerrems with Music and arrangements by Alex Turner, The Ruby Red Fatales has two more performances at The Ellington Jazz Club on Tuesday and Wednesday, 26 & 27 July

Saturday, 16 July 2016

The Mummy Rises - From The Hip Productions (14 July 2016)

The second of the Gothics Trilogy at Murdoch’s Nexus Theatre, The Mummy Rises sees a marked tonal shift from its predecessor. Also notable is that it uses an original script by Director Tim Brain rather than based on pre-existing literary material. This is more in line with the Brendan Fraser led movies where action is combined with broad comedy. There is an underlying tone of feminist empowerment though as the women are the main players here from Christie Strauss’ heroine, Clare Waldren; to Anna Weir’s Harriet Preston who finds release from her husband’s overbearing ways in surprising fashion; to Bella Doyle’s enigmatic Abrar Ali who controls the wrath of the titular Mummy, Artek Bey (Andrew Dawson).

Then there’s the comedy duo of Kate Willoughby and Abbey McCaughan who act like a CSI Egyptology dream team in the bowels of the London Museum with the former uncovering the secret to defeating the ancient foe. Indeed, Willoughby threatens to steal the show as she stumbles and bumbles her way to incantation laden epiphany.

The men don’t fare quite as well being the main contributors to the body count as hubris and intolerance is punished.  Of course, any good Mummy story must have a curse and it’s in disturbing the final resting place of Artek Bey that trouble brews. The expedition, led by Clare’s father, John Waldren (Brain), financed by Lord Preston (Dean Lovatt), and including Alfie (Andrew David) and Charlie (Tay Broadley), is subsequently doomed as death stalks them in a neck snapping shuffle. Disaster strikes early with Alfie blinded and poor Charlie treated like a red-shirted member of a Star Trek away team (to completely mix my genre metaphors). The sarcophagus and accompanying artefacts are moved to London where, one by one, the remaining members of the team meet their fate.

The set and lighting design is again excellent as are the costuming and props. This is yet another handsome production to look at with the core Dracula set cleverly reconfigured to present the Egyptian tomb and later the London Museum. The opening is effectively done as we hear the chinks of tools cracking open the roof of the tomb and light pouring into the dusty and cobweb ridden main stage area. Lights flicker in the presence of the resurrected Mummy while the visual and aural elements from thunder and dust storms add ominous context. The staging of the deaths is given a wince inducing boost with a most graphic sound effect that drew squeals from some of the audience.

The first half, however, felt trapped in limbo between servicing both the horror and comedy elements equally. The second act fares better when especially Willoughby is given free rein and the kookiness of the situation and its quirky resolution are embraced. I was unsure, on the whole, of character’s frames of reference in the early going. Who believes in the curse and who doesn’t was a little blurred except in the instance of Lord Waldren and Lovatt plays the man with rock sure conviction until literally the death knell. The existence of the curse itself was undercut as Harriet Preston’s plight finds an unexpected ally. Part of that subsequent transaction suggests the curse is a fabrication that needs to be maintained; a false beat for mine. The positive message of her challenging Lord Preston’s domestic supremacy is also diluted by the manner in which she does so and her eventual fate.

Strauss’s Clare, however, gives plenty of cheek as the archaeologist daughter is more than a match in wits for the men and wields a mean sword. I was a little confused by her proper English accent in comparison to Tim Brain’s Scottish lilt as Clare’s father but archaeologists are a well-travelled bunch I guess. Lovatt is imperious and brings gravitas to the Lord who sees profit before discovery and science before superstition. He also isn’t afraid to play the villain in the domestic abuse subplot though his stage slap needs work. Dawson is impressively swathed as the Mummy and brings physicality to the role with his imposing height compared to the rest of the cast.

In all it’s a fun romp which, with some tightening of character motivations and outlook, and a firmer decision on what type of production it wants to be (it leans heavily towards parody at certain points and is at its best as a comedy), could find life outside the strictures of the Trilogy. 

Hobo - Jeffrey the Cat Productions (12 July 2016)

Near where I work there was an unused building on a street corner. It has now been demolished to make way for a new development which is prevalent in the area. Before then, on what the Americans might call a stoop, homeless men would sleep. There were regular faces and most of them were indigenous though by no means exclusively. There was also an external power point to which an old style transistor radio was plugged. Next door in the disused car park was a shopping trolley with a mishmash of clothes and other frugal belongings.

This all hits me in the face as I walk into the Blue Room studio.

The set is composed of green garbage bags piled up to the ceiling in the representation of an alleyway at the back of what we soon learn is a gay nightclub. Detritus is everywhere on the floor with a hovel of a sleeping area. On one of the milk crates in the centre of the space, an indigenous man – Tank (Maitland Schnaars) – listens to a transistor radio and drinks heavily. His world is soon to be rocked by intruders in the form of Fred (James Hagan), and later, Terry (James Taylor, also the playwright) who bursts into the alley from the nightclub’s back door.

The characters interact and entwine in surprising ways as the topics of homelessness, alcoholism, mental illness, male and indigenous pride, questions of identity, and father-son relationships are explored in warts and all fashion. The language is blunt, crude but not without humour. The characters are flawed but not without brusque charm. The scenario is all too real...

People going to and from work including myself would pass by those men on that stoop every day. They never asked for money. They were never any trouble. Nobody stopped to enquire about their wellbeing. Nobody stopped to help. Including me. It was if there were two polar opposite worlds, side by side, each aware of but ignoring the other.

As the play progresses I wonder how someone could end up in that situation. I wonder how they would cope – how I would cope. The play offers insights into the first of those two questions. The power of the production is in making you consider the third. It’s not subtle by any means but then life on the street is brutal and uncompromising.

Schnaars imbues his character with sly humour tinged with regret at past misdeeds. There is an inherent decency that shines through. Hagan plays the down on his luck ex-shock jock with straight forward contempt at all around him. His instantly recognisable voice is an asset and lends weight to the character’s bile. Taylor is Fred’s son Terry who initially comes off as a bit of a goofball but ultimately seeks his father’s acceptance. That’s a bridge too far for Fred who cannot contend with Terry’s sexuality.

For most of its length Hobo plays as a slice of life look at these three people until the best sequence of the production when our understanding is turned on its head. Lit only by cigarette lighters as each character speaks in turn it sends us down a rabbit hole that makes us reconsider everything we have seen to that point. Director Ian Wilkes otherwise makes good use of multiple entry points as characters come and go, the only constant being Tank.

Live musical accompaniment is provided by Taylor on electric guitar. While this added mood and a guitar does feature as a prop of some emotional significance to Tank, it felt incongruous seeing Taylor in dual roles in such an intimate space.  

This is the second incarnation of Hobo at The Blue Room Theatre and after tonight’s final performance heads over east. Written by James Taylor, directed by Ian Wilkes, and starring Maitland Schnaars, James Hagan, and Taylor, it shines an uncompromising light on issues that tragically remain far too common.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Dracula - Murdoch Theatre Company (7 July 2016)

In the pantheon of fictional creations there are few as exotic and fearsome as the grandest of the Undead, the most famous Vampire of them of all, Dracula. It is a name that immediately conjures images of blood drenched horror and the seductive allure of immortality hideously perverted. Like the timeless character itself that can turn into mist or bat or wolf, the vampire legend evolves and mutates over the generations and across formats. It is a myth I have always loved and certainly a favourite of Hollywood’s even from its earliest days.

With the saturation of such supernatural creatures in today’s multi-media formats, however, something of the essence of the story and its origins has been lost. This is where director John King and the Murdoch Theatre Company come in with a traditional interpretation from a script nearly a hundred years old. It will be immediately familiar to anyone who has read Bram Stoker’s masterful novel. To a newer audience it sets out the foundation for all the elements on which the myth rests. If you’re expecting Twilight or Blade or Underworld or True Blood or any of their ilk you might be disappointed as this faithful adaptation eschews all the subversions and perversions that have bombarded our screens, small and large. But each one of those owes a huge debt to where it all began...

... in a sanatorium where Lucy Seward (Toni Vernon) is beset by an ailment her father Doctor Seward (Stephen Platt) and fiancé Jonathan Harker (Philip Hutton) are baffled by. A patient, Renfield (Rhys Hyatt) is also under assault for his very soul as his Master, the mysterious Dracula (Joel Sammels), compels obedience from afar. In desperation Seward summons Abraham Van Helsing (Jason Dohle) to save his daughter. The Professor diagnoses a condition beyond imagining and the hunt is soon on to destroy the very things that leave the rapacious Dracula free to feed on Lucy. But the Vampire, assisted by his beguiling brides and human pawns, is a formidable foe not easily bested.

Like any good gothic horror tale mood and atmosphere is vitally important and this is where the productions excels. The multi-level set is exquisitely dressed and lit to represent the offices of the sanatorium and later, with impressive efficiency, the underground lair where Dracula’s resting place is hidden. There is a real sense of old world charm and naivety where the still fledgling disciplines of science and medicine are no match for such an ancient foe. The dialogue, at times heavily expositional and a little twee to modern ears, works because it is placed precisely in that environment. These people are discovering a terrible reality for the first time.

Great attention has been spent on the details to make this world credible from costuming to props and makeup. There was only a minor moment where my suspension of disbelief was broken but a mirror on set was always going to be problematic with a creature such as Dracula that is meant to cast no reflection. Otherwise this exudes atmosphere and the lighting design by Scott McArdle is an example of how a film literate generation can add so much to the stage. Some of Dracula’s entrances, backlit and silhouetted in smoke, are perfectly composed ‘shots’. They are both menacing and sumptuous to look at which is no small feat. The same with the writhing brides who loom above the main set in all their sensuous and intimidating glory. Composer Drew Krapljanov adds the finishing touch with a score that buttresses the intrigue of the slow burn first act before turning the screws on the urgency of the final confrontation.

To the performances and Sammels makes for a charismatic and scornful Dracula and I especially liked the physicality of his movement when hemmed in by Wolfsbane as if he were a feral animal. Hutton is a most upright and proper Harker in his formal dinner attire with hands often interlaced behind the small of his back. It’s a tightly controlled characterisation that was fascinating to watch. Platt was too earnest for mine as Seward and just needs to relax into the role. There were times he was prone to over emphasis in the delivery of dialogue but in fairness some of his lines are of the “good god, man!” variety which are difficult to convey convincingly.

Vernon’s petite stature helps immeasurably in presenting a woman who is fragile and emotionally vulnerable after the nightly draining of blood. The transformation from anaemic victim to threshold vampire is an entertaining one as her Lucy, now in red, is confident and forceful in ways poor Harker cannot contend with.

Rhianna Hall and Alex McVey play a housemaid and attendant respectively and share a funny set piece scene in the first half that breaks the tension and allows the audience to laugh. McVey, in particular, adds belly laughs throughout as his Butterworth struggles to deal with the seemingly superhuman Renfield. It’s a critical counterpoint to the serious business of stakes through hearts and lives in the balance. Jess Serio, Christie Strauss and Jenia Gladziejewski are the irresistible vampire brides who look awesome and add that touch of sensuality to proceedings.

Then there’s Jason Dohle as Van Helsing, the famous professor armed with the knowledge and courage to confront the vampire. Dohle is charming, inquisitive, insistent and determined while showing a softer side when dealing with Lucy. Armed with Wolfsbane (instead of garlic in an interesting touch) and an eastern European accent he drives the action and is a most robust protagonist. Hyatt has perhaps the trickiest part of all as the crazed Renfield swings in and out of lucidity depending on the hold of his Master. It’s a busy performance that flirts with caricature but ultimately won me over, notably in the moment Hyatt allows us to see Renfield’s sudden realisation of his fate.

The first half takes a while to swing into gear and that scene between Hall and McVey really kick started the production for me. The second half picks up the pace and King builds the tension as we wonder how our heroes will triumph. It’s a testament to all involved that while most of the action takes place off stage this dialogue heavy script is still so compelling. It’s a great start to The Gothics Trilogy and there is a smart and funny coda at the end that leaves the audience eager for the next instalment.

Dracula, written by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston and directed by John King, is on 7.30pm tonight and Saturday 9 July at the Nexus Theatre on the Murdoch University campus.

*photos by EClaire Photography

Sunday, 3 July 2016

A Perfect Specimen - Black Swan State Theatre Company (30 June 2016)

There is much to like about this play that emerged from the development crucible of the Black Swan Emerging Writers Group. It is an exquisitely handsome production to look at from the detailed costumes to Joe Lui’s evocative lighting design to the velvet draped surrounds of the set. It is an interesting premise with rich dialogue that befits the theatricality of the subject matter and good performances, none finer than Greg McNeill’s Cornell Wurlitzer. Ultimately, however, the play didn’t work for me due to some scripting issues and, notably, a decision on how to present one of the central characters, the so-called Ape Woman, Julia Pastrana, played by Adriane Daff.

Indeed, the story is about how Pastrana’s husband Theodore Lent (Luke Hewitt) exploits her notorious appearance for financial gain, both as an ‘exhibit’ in a travelling freak show and for examination by curious physicians. When Pastrana becomes pregnant their relationship takes on all the aspects of a searing tragedy and there is no denying the power of some of these moments, notably the birth and its aftermath.

The essential concern is this. Pastrana is referred to and describes herself as a monster, hideous and grotesque, covered in fur. When first we see the character she is clad from top to bottom and sporting a veil. Once revealed, however, there is seemingly no attempt to disguise the elfin Daff’s delicate beauty. This is no monster; this is not someone to recoil from. The issue is further exacerbated by the fact that we never see how an audience reacts to her Pastrana; how humiliating those examinations might be. We are only told how difficult the character’s life is yet never witness it.

While I understand it might be problematic to present the character as a full on ‘freak’, this was far too safe an option. If you’re going to tell me over and over and over how hideous this person is then I’d rather you swing for the fences and possibly miss than seemingly avoid the situation. It is a critical suspension of disbelief issue. Daff is otherwise fine in the role though saddled somewhat with an exaggerated accent that made her sound like a naïve child at times.

There were also a few curious scripting issues. The play opens with a wonderfully theatrical Hewitt as carnival barker entreating us to be amazed and horrified at such a creature. It hooked me straight away and had me eagerly awaiting what comes next as any salesman might wish. Only to be disappointed when the next scene not only doesn’t reveal the ‘monster’ but takes us to a drawing room where Igor Sas (Doctor Gregory Alyokhin) gives a long monologue about Russian ghosts. 

Sorry, what? I thought we were talking about physical appearance and how we marvel at and fear those that are different. How inner beauty triumphs over outer monstrosity. A Russian ghost story felt thematically like a totally different play and it’s a lot of stage time to chew up so early. The essence of that scene, when we finally get to the point, is Alyokhin requesting to examine Pastrana and Lent coldly demanding a princely sum to do so. The delay in getting there stalled the momentum so precisely won at the opening.

Contrast this with the wonderfully written and beautifully performed monologue by McNeill as Wurlitzer recounts the tale of discovering co-joined twins. It cuts straight to the heart of not only the fascination with physical otherness but the beguiling economic implications for those who are poor beyond measure and the opportunists that prey on them. I was squirming in my seat at the gut-wrenching tale in all its manifest horror.

Likewise, the play ends with Hewitt reprising the opening introduction but now through the prism of all the tragedy and heartless gain as a result. It is a perfect conclusion as he recedes into the shadows, the character more monstrous than any he could ever hope to exhibit. Yet the play continues with a long scene that felt like the sort of epilogue you really would be better off Googling at home. Sure, there is some pleasure in watching two stalwarts of the local theatre scene in McNeill and Sas mixing it up but it was a redundant expository scene that leached away the impact of Hewitt’s exit.

The other player here is Rebecca Davis as the long and lithesome acrobat Marian Trumbull, a character who is not only cheating on her husband with Lent, but is concocting more extreme acts to remain relevant. Why would the punters pay to watch feats of skill when there is an ape-woman to behold? Bold and exuding more than a faint sense of desperation it’s a well-judged performance.

A couple of other excellent scenes feature Hewitt, first with Daff as the two are at loggerheads about what to do with the baby, his solution so implacably practical and horrific; the second as McNeill’s Wurlitzer takes Lent to task for going too far. For a man who has seen it all even Wurlitzer is disgusted by the depths Lent will go to and Hewitt doesn’t blink when pushing that envelope.

Black Swan sometimes falls too in love with the technical wizardry on offer and director Stuart Halusz’s decision to use a rotating stage – a central circle and an outer rim that both moved independent of each other – took me out of the ‘old world’ so meticulously crafted with music, costuming, lighting, sound design, props such as a working gramophone, and makeup. The slickness of revolving pieces of set into place worked against the sense of mystery and weight of history that hangs over the story. Actors could also be seen behind the string curtain moving props and pieces of set onto that revolving stage while scenes were in progress.

It is, however, undoubtedly an audacious tale by playwright Nathaniel Moncrieff and shows yet again the strength of the local writing talent in this state. What a wonderful opportunity to have it performed at the Studio Underground with such a strong cast. With some judicious rearrangement and editing of the script and bolder choices in terms of execution this could be a memorable work. At the moment though it doesn’t quite convince but is worth the price of admission to gawk at a theatrical curiosity newly given birth.

Written by Nathaniel Moncrieff, Directed by Stuart Halusz and starring Adriane Daff, Rebecca Davis, Luke Hewitt, Greg McNeill, and Igor Sas, A Perfect Specimen is on at the State Theatre Centre until 17 July.

*images courtesy of Daniel James Grant

Coincidences at the End of Time - The Perth Theatre Trust & Second Chance Theatre (29 June 2016)

I was talking to writer/director Scott McArdle after this latest iteration of his play set in a café as the world comes to an end. I remarked that with screenplays you never really finish writing them; somebody, if you’re fortunate enough, shoots the script and that’s the endpoint. With plays though you have the opportunity to occasionally remount a production and with that comes the ability to rework the script.

I saw a version of Coincidences at the End of Time a couple of years ago in the cosy confines of the Moore & Moore Café in Fremantle. Since then it has been performed at The Blue Room and now transfers to the bigger studio space at the Subiaco Arts Centre. Not only does that present the work to a larger audience it provides McArdle the resources to expand his vision in terms of the text, set and lighting design. Finally it takes what was originally a student production and puts the script in the hands of two well known, professional actors – Arielle Gray coming off Black Swan’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Nick Maclaine recently seen in Barking Gecko’s Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories. 

The story remains essentially the same – a pair of ex-lovers bump into each other at their favourite haunt and relive the highs and lows of their relationship. The context, however, is that the apocalypse is well past nigh, it’s literally banging down the doors of café as fire breathing lizards melt human flesh outside and continents sink into oblivion. We never know what the cause of this end-of-the-world scenario is but that’s secondary to the cataclysmic emotional events it sponsors. With no tomorrow why not relive your shared yesterdays?

In that regard the play is less a dystopian nightmare and more a time travel saga of recalled memories and moments. The arc of the relationship follows familiar territory – the ‘cute meet’, first date, moving in together, shared moments of domestic life, the embarrassments, the arguments and secrets that come to the fore, the perceived and actual betrayals, and finally the separation.  

These vignettes are weaved into the present day situation of imminent death thereby lending poignancy tinged with regret. The reworked script is tighter in this regard, ratcheting up the emotional stakes while downplaying the humour though there are still wry observations and McArdle’s trademark witty ripostes.

Maclaine is always the most affable of leading men and that everyman quality works well here. His greeting card writer is a sympathetic figure and even in scenes of heightened emotion exudes an easy charm and sense of decency. Gray adds a layer of emotional combustibility and it’s an impressive turn especially when the relationship crumbles before our eyes. There is an emotional honesty to her performance that is compelling.

The set has come a long way from the sparse configuration in Fremantle. There is a vertical bed used to good effect and all the paraphernalia of a café including a jumble of chairs hanging from the ceiling to symbolise a world turned upside down. The only problem with the studio space is that the seating isn’t particularly well raked for optimal viewing so I lost a lot when the actors were down low.

Light bulbs are suspended from the ceiling between the chairs and their use clearly delineates what is the present and what is, essentially, a flashback. There is a certain rhythm that allows for the actors to make minor costume adjustments and find their marks. Music also assists with this and I believe it is the same score as used before. All this is effective stagecraft but given the amount of transitions it occasionally lends a sameness and predictability in the repetition.   

The Subiaco Theatre Festival is proving to be a boon in allowing works such as Coincidences at the End of Time to be restaged and find a different audience. It encourages talented theatre practitioners such as McArdle to refine and hone their craft and that bodes well for future endeavours.