‘Narrow Graves’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by August 29, 2014

‘Narrow Graves’ this 80-minute play will stay in your mind for a long time to come. Written by the somewhat prolific Scott McArdle, he has shown that there are numerous, fresh topics still out there waiting to be tackled. Scott’s production may be high-volume, but the thought, dialogue and story threads are always of the highest quality.

This 18+ play is being produced by Second Chance Theatre in the Murdoch Drama Workshop, adjacent to Car Park 4, Banksia Drive, Murdoch University, Murdoch.

The sensibly priced tickets are available at the door. The curtain goes up nightly at 7.00 pm until Saturday 30th August, with one matinée on Saturday afternoon at 1.00 pm.

 

The set is a black tile design, with white grouting lines. A dormitory area at the front of the stage has three areas of bedding. An office desk at the rear is the warden’s office, with shower areas on each side. The stage is starkly furnished, the emptiness emphasises the isolation and sinister desolation of this 2600 AD concentration camp. (Set and Graphic Design by Nicola Rivers, with some good effects by Stage Manager Milly Dee).

         Since the beginning of time, the weakest groups of people have been picked on by the others. At school 50 years ago, a person with a disability, unusual hair colour or sexual ‘peculiarity’ was instantly an ideal target. They were ‘weak freaks’ who did not conform to society. Now, thankfully, things have generally changed for the better; but with this reform to ‘all being equal’, general good manners can often be considered condescending or patronising. In this story we are taken 600 years into the future, where attitudes have become even more extreme.

 

      The superficially caring, Doctor Benjamin (Rhys Hyatt) has a new guest at his Facility; she is the highly spirited, intelligent Charlotte (Emily David). As bow-tied, Doctor Ben jokes his way around the amenities tour, Charlotte spots a naked man, Ethan (Scott McArdle) standing motionless in a bucket of cold water. In another corner, lying on the floor is Juliet (Jade Galambosi). She is wearing the regulation grey T-shirt and wool shorts (Wardrobe, Sophie Braham). Charlotte tries to strike up a conversation and show sympathy, but to this Institution, it is a sign of weakness and she is moved on by the ‘kind’ doctor.

      Charlotte discovers that poor Juliet has had a lobotomy, and so is now a harmless member of society. Dr Ben explains the routine of 4 showers per day, interspersed with demonstrations of ‘affection’ towards him. The whole establishment is under the watchful eye of numerous surveillance cameras, all supervised by The Warden (Laughton Mckenzie), an intelligent and logical man, who is actually totally insane and with no moral standards.

    The warped Dr Ben is obviously the Warden’s puppet, but can Ethan’s controlled and submitting silence win him freedom from this hell hole?

 

Under the well thought-out direction came from the actors themselves. The rich characters, each with their own style of dialogue, attitudes to life and personalities are perfectly presented by the five actors. McArdle, who has already proven himself as a fine writer, director and techie – this lighting design (smoothly operated by Rhianna Hall) instantly depicts the atmosphere required – now sets himself up for a most challenging role, demanding both nudity and displaying a man under tremendous stress.

This Facility has all kinds of torture, physical and mental. Hyatt gave a great performance as a cool leader who could have a massive mood swing at the mention of a single word. The performance was slightly caricaturised, but this helped emphasis the cold, calculating, uncaring manner of the perverted Warden (Mckenzie).

Emily David gave a powerful performance as the new guest, who fearlessly stood up to the controllers. With tears in her eyes, she had several moments when you thought she was going to crack at their attitudes, before carrying on boldly. Jade Galambosi captured the easy going ‘vegetable’ existence, which was still capable of tremendous emotional outbursts.

The atmosphere was topped off with an amazing soundscape (Composer, Aiden Willoughby) that subtly rumbled along in the background; with occasional blend of angelic voices, bringing that slight sign of hope to this wretched establishment.

This is not an easy show to watch, but the stark and brave approach holds one’s concentration for the full 80-minutes, bringing a new genuine fear for the future of the world.