This is certainly a captivating and thought-provoking performance, tackling well its themes of responsibility, pressure, self-depreciation, unrequited love and mental illness. A most articulate and profound piece of theatre that I would certainly recommend readers see.
Joe Marty (playing Brendon) and Ruth Page (playing Fran) have an excellent and palpable chemistry, evidenced in their shared humour and endearing secretive winks and smiles of encouragement at the end of the overture to prepare one another for the performance to come. This is an excellent ground for their work together. They remain throughout unfazed by and confident in their interactions with one another, demonstrating eye contact and engagement with one another throughout. The two also do a good job at welcoming the audience, increasing awareness of their presence and the space.
However — and the following are significant points — this metatheatricality and subtextual chemistry actually work against our reading of the performance. Not once again is the audience addressed, meaning that we have become needlessly self-aware and recognisant of the mechanics of theatre, the Other, the performer and our relationships to these, whilst the performance will otherwise remain enclosed and fictional. In this way, the audience-performer divide is dismantled, only to be reinforced immediately as the play begins. Then, the characters themselves that Page and Marty proceed to present to us remain, overall, distinct and isolated from one another — by their own harsh spotlights, by never touching, by offering only the odd retort and a distancing eye contact as forms of address. Whilst playfulness persists for a while — with Fran voicing her opinion that Brendon could never, despite his self-belief, feature on the front cover of GQ magazine providing us with a good example — by the beginning-middle, we have lost any sense of relation, togetherness and shared experience. It feels, in this way, that the overture with which we are presented is one intended for an ultimately different performance, setting us up to read in these performers, and hence in their characters, a direct relationship to us that will never be consolidated, as well as a belonging and solidarity with one another that we ought not to perceive. Of course, we can connect the characters’ experiences indirectly by theme, their loneliness, their frustrations, etc., but this is a very different matter.
I should also note here that whilst Page and Marty are confident in these initial audience interactions, addressing each audience member respectively, their script remains somewhat limited, focused on the so-called “energy” or “vibe” of the room, how we are all feeling, and what beverages people have brought into the house with them. This is somewhat unimaginative, communicating a lack of extensive preparation, and better interactions, and perhaps interactions that are notably congruous with the material to follow, ought to be conceived here. This is our first impression of the performance; it ought not to be repetitive or lacking in any way. The two do make more elaborate jokes, encouraging us to dance at any point if we wish [again, when during the performance would this be appropriate?], roaming the corridors to spot latecomers, etc. More varied interactions of this nature are needed here, but, again, with thought to congruity.
Integration of composer-musician Joe Strickland, also the director of this performance, feels distinctly incomplete. Clearly not trained as a performer, his unnaturalistic expressions and responses to the material are both distracting and subtractive. For example, his mouthing, “Oh no!” when it is revealed that a ‘dead’ man is lying in Brendon’s bedroom [I should also note here that this extreme development seems to be glossed over and forgotten, where it ought to be better communicated and expanded upon. I remain completely perplexed as to who this dead man is and as to what relevance he has to the progression of this text.] Strickland’s extreme responses minimise the credibility or integrity of invaluable moments in this performance. Page is the only one of the two main performers to really address Strickland, laughing and talking with him, whilst he seems invisible to Marty beyond Marty’s early reference that he would like the music to pause and resume at a specific point in time. This interaction he shares with Page is heading in the direction of better inclusion, but there are instances where he informs her [in pretence?] of cues or upcoming decisions, directing her attention to his grid controller. This interaction type defictionalises the performance far too emphatically and ought to be avoided. Strickland’s relationship with his own music is also rather distracting at times, seeing him bopping, tapping, ‘lost in the art of it’ whilst the topics addressed by the text are supposed to be far calmer or intense, demanding our emotional investment or stricter attention. This is particularly distracting and artificial during scenes where the music we are offered is merely a repetitive percussive beat.
In fact, tech overall proves itself to be quite incongruous with the performance, providing us itself with rhythms that do not coincide with the emotional quality of the scenes we are offered. Beyond this, the music’s volume is far too loud, combining with the volume of the microphoned actors, their oftentimes extensive physical expressivity, the fast pace of the music and the intensity of the material, all to allow for an unwanted sense of chaos and busyness which persists throughout the entire performance. This also minimises our appreciation of the final scene that is executed in silence, as it is easy to be absorbed, finally, in the peace of the music’s absence as opposed to in the intensity of the isolation of the text and story alone in its retreat.
On to the text itself. This text, poetic and literary in some aspects, and conversational and naturalistic in others, is excellently structured, gripping and well-conceived. The fragmented and achronological narrative with which we are presented provides great intrigue and dynamism, keeping Brendon’s story, in particular, esoteric and erratic, which communicates successfully these qualities of his personality, frame of mind and actions. The story we are presented is unique, expanding profoundly upon often-overlooked emotional relationships with otherwise fleeting and short-lived life events. Its characters are also well-defined and excellently developed. In regard to its theme of mental illness, this play also successfully and commendably humanises emotions from which we are often taught to distance ourselves: desperation, vulnerability, neediness, despair…
I would just pay closer attention to the writing of Brendon's character. Whilst I wrote above that the esotericism of his narrative is effective, it is also slightly excessive in its constancy. It is not until the middle-end of the performance that any humanisation or understanding of his character and circumstances are permitted. Conversely, his mention of Joyce Vincent seems to come too late, feeling as though a much-too-conspicuous foreshadowing of his own death. When addressing Fran, 'you' and 'her' are used almost interchangeably, and this ought to be addressed, also. Beyond Brendon's narrative, abject descriptions are also somewhat repetitive: 'paste', 'spit', etc., and the same can be said for the use of onomatopoeia, namely 'boom'. Other than these items, this is a solid, sleek and sound text.
As for the performers themselves, Marty and Page remain energised and invigorated throughout the entire performance. They are confident, eager, and aware of their respective characters' psychologies, feelings, motivations and intentions. More of a directorial issue, I would just reconsider how the two react to one another's monologues. As alluded to above, there is a playfulness turned sour and removed as the play goes on, without particularly well-communicated reasoning as to why. Oftentimes, their responses to one another are too artificial and extreme, seeing the actors bursting with laughter or delivering their lines without regard to natural intonation and pacing; these moments feel far too rehearsed in this way. Nevertheless, they have great command over their roles and excellent awareness of one another and the audience. Pacing and variation in delivery, without which this play could become too bipartite and monotonous, are also immaculately handled.
Diction becomes a notable problem for Marty as the performance draws to a close, however, and I imagine this is due to a mischannelling of nervous energy and to the lingering effects of an [efficacious] erratic physicality. Most important to consider is his enunication when delivering his line about this aforementioned dead man: the line, 'he sits up', was delivered rather awkwardly as 'he shits up'. When his character is calling his ex-partner and ends up stuck on her voicemail, his repeated line is delivered consistently as follows: 'it call [sic.], it rings'. This performer has wonderful facial expressivity, as does Page, but conceals it with his microphone, which he holds at far too high a tilt; it ought to be held perpendicular to his face.
I should also mention here Page's propensity towards manual expression, which is wonderful and articulate but too juxtapositional against Marty's expressivity in the first scene, limited exclusively to his face. Both performers, with emphasis on Marty, sometimes deliver their lines with too great an emphasis on the lyricality and poeticism of the text, altering their pacing and intonation to match its rhythm; this ought to be avoided.
Some final trivial notes. Marty forces our attention towards Page when his character describes hers, noting that Fran wears her handbag on one shoulder where, in fact, she wears it on the other and across her chest, which would make it incredibly difficult for someone to quickly snatch from her in an alleyway. Moreover, should she still have this handbag, once the rest of the performance will be dedicated to her hunting it, and Brendon, down? The audience is far too harshly lit, which would be acceptable if this initial metatheatricality was continuous, but, again, it is not. This can also lead to the audience's discomfort, due to the infamous heat of the lights — as it did mine. There is also a discontinuity in the text, where Brendon describes himself running away, seeing Fran at the bottom of a staircase, then being hit in the face with her thrown dog's ashes, but the chronology of this is later revealed by Fran to be different. Finally, I would recommend not having Marty strike the microphone against his head, risking its momentary malfunction, as was the case on the night I saw the performance. Instead, he ought to make the sound himself whilst striking his head with his own hand, which would be welcomed by the play’s aforementioned insistence upon onomatopoeia heretofore.
Once more, as with my most recent review before this, I personally thoroughly enjoyed this performance, but the items I have noted above bring me to the rating below.