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.