Brink are on exciting and innovative ground with the latest offering from playwright, Nicki Bloom. Their latest work is a nightmare, from beginning to end, but in a good way. Insomniacs, like I, inhabit that space between waking and sleeping all too often, and just about everybody would have been there at some time, when the conscious and subconscious minds fight for control. Logical and illogical, real and surreal exist at the same time, confusingly mingling. This play is reminiscent of that experience. It is, in part, familiar, but there are impossible events juxtaposed against the familiar. Like a dream, scenes change suddenly and illogically, but are still part of the same nightmare. Some parts are vague and hazy, a scrim curtain recreates that mood for the audience, while others come into sharper focus. This all happens, and more, in Artistic Director Chris Drummond’s remarkably effective interpretation of Nicki Bloom’s play.
Wendy Todd’s design is an integral part of the production, not merely a performance space. The intimacy of the arrangement within the Queen’s Theatre adds a lot to that feeling of being caught up in a dream. With only three rows of seats around the performance area nobody is very far from the action. Geoff Cobham’s lighting design, too, is an important part of the performance, not just illumination. Cobham creates different spaces and atmospheric effects that heighten the sense of the unreal.
The first part of the production references Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which Prospero and his daughter are marooned on an island where he is in total control through his use of magic. We see similarities when a man tells his daughter that he “lights stars in the darkness, paints clouds in the sky and conjures the evening tide.”
As the production begins we peer through a scrim curtain into another world, an island where a man and a girl named Vera appear. She calls him Mr. Greene and he asks why she no longer calls him Poppa. He wants eggs for his breakfast, as always, and sends her to get them. She goes to a woman named Essie, who complains that it always her job to search for the eggs and climb trees to get them. A boy, Poor Tom, is washed ashore on this island. Vera thinks that she knows him, or perhaps she remembers him from the future.
Right from the start our perception of reality is challenged and it does not let up as the scenes slip past, the names of the characters being variations of the names that they have at the beginning, but their essences varying as they progress through the time that we spend in their world.
Rory Walker, as William Greene, Danielle Catanzariti, as Vera, Jacqy Phillips, as Essie, and Thomas Conroy, as Poor Tom, are the four performers who create all of the weird and wonderful characters and situations that we meet along the way. Drummond has brought together four superb performers and without people of such talent, and the willingness to move away from the mundane into such inventive territory, this piece would be impossible.
These four not only create very distinctive individual characters, who evolve and transmogrify as time passes, but they also work extremely closely as an ensemble, sharing the stage and generously giving focus to one another as appropriate, evidence of a high level of professionalism and an understanding of what makes a good production.
The accompanying music covers everything from Mediaeval and Renaissance, to Weimar Kabarett, to the end of WWII, including a fine rendition of Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen (originally a Yiddish song, Bei Mir Bistu Schein) and Frère Jacques, sung as a round in four languages. More music, and numerous ethereal sound effects, are provided by Musical Director, Hilary Kleinig, on cello and piano, combining with recorded music and soundscapes. This is another very integrated and important part of the production.
Once in a while something new and exciting turns up on the Adelaide theatre scene, and this is most definitely one of those times. If you like your theatre to be much more than just an evening of light, frothy and highly forgettable entertainment, then this is for you. You will not forget this work in a hurry and you will find people talking about it long after it closes, so make sure that you see it while you can.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.
Venue: Queen’s Theatre, Playhouse Lane, Adelaide
Season: to 26th May 2012
Tickets: $25 to $45
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or here
Warning: No admission after the performance begins. DO NOT be late.