Dramafest 2014 Session 6 reviewed by Richard Hyde

by September 29, 2014

10am. In the morning. On a Sunday. Talk about my own personal afterlife. Yet there I was in the front row, my usual spot A8, in the grey limbo world between sleep and disbelief. The dulcet tones of Paul Treasure drew me back to the light and BAM suddenly there were people on stage entertaining me.

These poor souls were trapped in a lift stuck on the 12th floor of some medical facility that would require at least three gulps of air to recite. Yes, Level 12 was a very amusing beginning to a daylong celebration of independent theatre. In said lift is a guy late for his first day at a new job (Ben Costantin) and, let’s face it, pretty obnoxious about it; a heavily pregnant American woman (Natalie Baggen); and what turns out to be a drug dealer (Nichola Chapman) who’s been ‘restocking’ her supplies.

What I liked about this is that there was a ticking clock and stakes for each character and these competed to create real obstacles and conflict. This, coupled with the close proximity of the characters in the lift setting, generated some really funny moments though some of the plotting was a bit ropey (pun fully intended). For example, the rope and handcuffs in the guy’s bag were there more for (odd) plot purposes than any real character reason. There was some wonderful physical comedy as well, particularly Baggen’s pregnant Florinda, and all three actors did a great job. The only thing I didn’t like is that Chapman’s character was totally ignored in the opening salvos as if she was invisible. Her presence is a given circumstance that has to be at least acknowledged. Written by Kate Beck and Directed by Sophie Prober for Blak Yak Theatre.

Now, I wouldn’t say I am a Major League Baseball fan but I know enough to get by and Field of Dreams is one on my all-time favourite movies. So the ten minute spotlight, Judgement Call, was an unexpected delight. Three baseball umpires are preparing for the new season – head of the crew Harvey is proud of his number 2 ranking and determined to be the #1 umpire in the American League. Rookie Joe idolises him but the other member of the crew, Frank, seems lackadaisical at best.

We soon discover that Frank blames himself for the suicide of a player who took his life after losing a critical playoff game on a missed call. A call Frank made. I loved the physicality of this piece as the actors warm up and practice their calls. This also has all the trimmings of ‘baseball as a metaphor for life’ which is a peculiar American cultural quirk. Here the umpires represent truth and certainty in a world full of chaos. The only thing that didn’t quite ring true (but was absolutely in line with the idealism that comes with all that cultural weight) is that Frank is turned around by Harvey far too quickly at the end. A wry ending would much better suit an Australian sensibility. Produced by the Actors’ Hub.

Then it was on to Laughing Horse’s production of Cut It Out, directed by Adam Salathiel and featuring three sisters – Jamie, Emmalee and Phillippa Bialas. Claire is a self-harmer, racked by guilt over the suicide of her twin sister, Clarice. Her older sister also feels guilt about this tragedy as she should have been home to potentially save Clarice but instead was engaging in an affair with an older, married man.

A recurring issue throughout Dramafest has been doing justice to the unbelievably weighty issues of suicide and death. In other examples it has been the writing that has let these types of pieces down but here the writing is generally good, especially the snappy back and forth in all the two-hander exchanges. However, the young actors didn’t have the rhythm and pacing right for this type of, what I call, “banter dialogue”. The delivery was too one paced, monotone and measured. A master of this type of writing is Aaron Sorkin and I would recommend getting out Season One of The West Wing and watch how rhythm in delivery is absolutely crucial and when done well is like music.

I was a little confused about who the older sister was delivering her monologues to – the audience, a psychiatrist, or some other party. There appeared to be flashbacks here as well and I didn’t see any change in the delivery style when the twins were playing younger characters. There needed to be delineation vocally and in physical movement to sell those moments. This was an incredibly difficult and ambitious piece especially when I was told later that the twin sisters playing Claire and Clarice were only 14.

The session ended with the very funny Love and Other Flushes where a plumber pretends to be the husband of a well-heeled marriage counsellor whose actual spouse has left only hours before they were due to assist a young couple with their marital problems. Peter Neaves gives a great performance as the plumber cum de facto counsellor who imparts wisdom from his toolkit of common sense. Gael Campbell-Young plays the straight woman role as the very proper lady of the house who espouses HALO – humility, attentive listening and something starting with O that I have forgotten right now! The young couple are played by Sam Barnett and, in her second appearance for the session, Nichola Chapman. This was smartly written, genuinely funny, didn’t overstay its welcome, and had a sweet ending. Directed by Kelly van Geest, written by Hugh O’Brien and produced by Laughing Horse.

A short break loomed before it was onto the home stretch and the last session of Dramafest…

A retraction – I am reliably informed that Emma Davis is a Fremantle Dockers fan who only supports Sydney when Freo isn’t playing. Apologies for any confusion, Emma’s mum.

A clarification – My statement about purple, however, stands! 

Reproduced, with permission, from Dramafest – Session 6 (28 September 2014)