Straight off the bat, this is the most ambitious public debut production I have seen for a 2nd year MT class in the past four years. The first slot is always a play but usually incorporates song and dance in one form or another. Apart from some rudimentary choreography this is an unvarnished acting challenge dealing with a classic tale. Further complicated by the fact that the cast alternates each night after interval!
For the first half I saw the 10 member female cast and then 9 of the 10 male students after the break. Those familiar with the novel/tale will know which character is missing.
I can appreciate the experimental nature and the fact we get to see almost the entire group in one sitting. But it comes at a cost given the demands being made here.
Before we get to that, the design elements are strong from lighting and sound to the multi-level set that is made up of various elements such as compacted suitcases, parachute, sails, netting, airplane tyres and a couple of easter eggs for the keen of eye. Thank you Production Manager Dames Long for the brief inspection after the show. There is a reveal that is well disguised then executed and the ubiquitous pig's head is a substantial prop along with the other iconic item, the conch shell.
To the performances and this is where the MT students are stretched. I can recall either at an Open Day or WAAPA Tour seeing first year acting students doing an exercise where they played young children and then old people. This is how the opening sequences felt and well into the first half with over-exaggerated movement and voices, compounded by the female students playing young teenage males. It felt like an extended acting exercise.
This settled down after the killing of the pig when the plot takes on more serious undertones. Alessandra Tonkich increasingly comes to the fore as Jack upping the confrontational nature of the character. Imogen Howe and Stacey Thomsett also provide grunt as members of Jack's army of hunters.
Crystal Haig's performance of Piggy almost felt like she was channeling Matt Lucas and this muddled the tone for me coming across as caricature. Alexandra Cornish was a preppy and very English Ralph and I liked Prudence Daniel's and Emma Bradley's stillness as Simon and Percival respectively. Daniel didn't quite nail the difficult dual nature of her character, however, on confronting the 'Lord of the Flies'.
The second half is much shorter and it's fascinating to see the changeover to the male students who automatically and inevitably bring a more robust physical presence as matters spiral out of control and into open conflict. It would be fascinating to see how they handle the 'innocence' of the opening 'chapters' (I was ambivalent about the projection of chapter numbers and titles onto one of the sails). Andrew Coshan made an immediate impact as a striking Jack and Jarrod Griffiths fared better as Piggy.
The play ends with what felt like another acting exercise as the male students, their characters confronted by the enormity of what has occured, break down and start to weep. It's gutsy to hold on them for so long standing there slowing disintegrating before our eyes but then that's the point.
This production asked a hell of a lot of its cast and while the results were varied the sink or swim approach should serve them well in terms of the acting leg of their triple threat training.
*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews