Dramafest 2014 Session 3 reviewed by Richard Hyde

by September 29, 2014

Session three and some common themes are beginning to emerge to join the monsters of Wednesday night. Seems auditioning and the afterlife hold great sway over our theatrical youth… perhaps the fear of facing both is a driving motivation?

We start with another Youthfest wildcard entry, this time St Norberts’s College with a completely different play called The Audition. Here a large ensemble is auditioning for a musical with the initially unseen director calling the shots aided by a stage manager played with great verve. My apology as no cast was listed in the programme so I am unable to identify individual actors by name. There are the usual suspects including – the actress with an overinflated ego, the hyperkinetic dancer, some who just want one line, others happy to be an extra, an actor who will even do a decent Hungarian accent if required. These are all handled with a light touch as the director becomes increasingly frustrated – no one apparently can sing – and the stage manager competently goes about his business.

The play then breaks away from the audition process itself to explore other characters in more detail – a mother and her actress-daughter at odds; an actress recounting the joy in her first performance only to be dejected to discover her mother never turned up to the show; and most effectively, the ‘freak’ who was bullied because she was different yet finds solace on the stage. We also see the father of the egotistical actress threaten the director when he dares not cast her.

This was an interesting play because the tone oscillates wildly from comedy to moments of great drama and poignancy to almost slapstick with the sequence involving the father. Additionally, it seemed to break the storytelling framework it initially set to explore events outside the realm of the audition itself. It was well performed – in particular the stage manager and the ‘freak’, with the ‘Hungarian guy’ a notable secondary role – and had great energy but the tonal shifts were a little problematic for me.

Then it was time for the 10 minute spotlight featuring none other than ITA President Paul Treasure himself as a man in search of class and culture who discovers beer instead. Titled Two and a Half Pints I can attest to the fact that Mister Treasure did indeed impressively imbibe two and a half cans of what appeared to be Guinness of some sort. He started a little nervously but soon was in full swing as a man mocked by the Picasso’s and Dali’s of the world as the grog decimated whatever talent and ambitions he might have had.

Next up was Comatose, directed by Gail Lusted and written by Brittany Isaia for Garrick Theatre.  Here a 17 year old girl – Skye – is involved in a car accident killing her younger brother and sister and leaving herself and her boyfriend in a coma. In hospital she is visited by her mother, sister, best friend and another school friend. While fully observant she is unable to communicate with anyone other than her dead siblings and comatose boyfriend as she hovers precariously in the limbo between life and death. The doctor in charge turns out to be, rather improbably, the father of Skye’s boyfriend who blames her for his son’s condition. Meanwhile, Skye’s sister finds love in the hospital ward with a guy who only later reveals himself to be a cancer patient.

This play deals with very serious themes – terminal illness, euthanasia, guilt, blame, attitudes towards death, ethical dilemmas. Unfortunately the writing lacks the subtext and subtlety required to explore such weighty matters effectively. Everyone speaks exactly what’s on their mind and the emotional responses simply didn’t ring true. For example, the sister goes from horror that Skye may be disconnected from life support to elation that her new boyfriend is cured of cancer within a heartbeat, her comatose sibling totally forgotten as celebrations are planned. Similarly, the doctor at one point screams at his son to ‘wake up’. With dialogue so direct the upping of emotional stakes in the acting only came across as overwrought.

The actress playing Skye was good but was sidelined as an observer for much of the play. There was an interesting beat when Skye meets her dead brother and sister who entice her to ‘let go’ with the promise of delights the afterlife will bring. This had the potential to be a strong dilemma for the character – whether to fight for life or slip away to join her siblings – but that decision was invested in others, diluting her potency in the story. Another angle partially set-up was that Skye could have been the catalyst for other characters to confess their secrets and fears to but we didn’t know them well enough to care, none more so than the friend who declares she is gay. I had no idea who this was as she appears from nowhere so I had no empathy or connection to her plight.

With more work on the script to pull back on the expository dialogue and invest the central character with more agency this could be a strong piece of theatre. The play starred Brittany Isaia, Shannen Precious, Sam Dunlop, Briony Kennedy, Elizabeth Offer, Nicola D Kinnane, Deakhan Lowrie, Shelly Miller, and Luke Miller.

Lastly, we revisited the afterlife with Garrick Theatre’s After Life: The Essential Handbook. This was a curious hybrid, starting off as a tongue-in-cheek description of the rules of the afterlife delivered by deceased author Amber Jennings but then following the actual story of Amber’s arrival in the hereafter and her struggles with an evil leader of nomad ghosts. I initially thought this was going to be a series of amusing vignettes as chapter headings were announced. Those headings proved to be signposts, however, for a self-contained story that I found a little muddled but ultimately suggested that evil isn’t as clear cut as it seems. The standout here was the actress playing Amber’s sister who is silently (though notable) in the background for most of the play until giving a lovely monologue late in the piece. Directed by Emily Theseira, the play featured Georgia Rodgers, Ben Adcock, Liam Longley, Chelsea Gibson, Daniel Slee, Natalie Cox, Madeleine Shaw, Kieran Theseira, James Riseborough, Ferida Mousavi, Chantelle Schuurmans, and Alison Seiler.

Reproduced, with permission, from Dramafest – Session 3 (26 September 2014)