Venue: Bakehouse Theatre, 255 Angas Street, Adelaide
Season: 8pm nightly Wed to Sat until 8th October 2011
Duration: 1hrs 40min
Tickets: adult $25/conc $22/Fringe Benefits $18
Bookings: http://www.bakehousetheatre.com/shows/2011/face or 8227 0505
Corey McMahon is directing his last production as Artistic Director of five.point.one and has chosen a powerful piece for his farewell production. He is definitely going out on a high note with this sensational production of the first play, written in 2007 by English playwright, Polly Stenham, when she was just nineteen.
As the lights go up we find a girl, Alice, tied up and with a black hood over her head. Two others, Izzy and Mia, enter and proceed to initiate her as the new girl at their boarding school. Izzy is the head girl in this initiation ceremony, and Mia her deputy. Things quickly go awry, however, as Mia has stolen some of her mother's Valium and has given it to their victim to calm her down. She has, in fact delivered an overdose of 50mg. The girl passes out, falling into a coma. Alice, we find later, has been taken to hospital and remains in a coma, while Mia faces expulsion. Under normal circumstances a girl in her position would turn to her family for help, but there is nothing normal happening here.
Cassandra Backler has taken the intimate Bakehouse and, by the use of black curtains around the reduced performance area, made it claustrophobic, keeping the actors confined in close proximity to one another. Within that space she has set up a pyramidal structure, with a large white platform at the bottom, a smaller one on top of that and a double bed on top of the second platform. With the assistance of a white curtain that pulls across dividing, the bed in two, and Ben Flett's carefully planned lighting, this small space is transformed into all of the locations in the play. The first scene was at floor level, the victim sitting on the bottom step. The next scene is at the top of the structure, in the bed. Christian Patterson's music and sound design heightens the tension at crucial moments.
In the second scene we find two people awakening. The woman apologises to the somewhat younger man for what happened the night before and promises that it will not happen again, but does not specify exactly what that transgression might have been, although there is one obvious conclusion, that is never denied. We soon discover that he is Henry, Mia's brother, and that the woman is their mother, who insists on being called by her name, Martha. Their father, Hugh, has decamped to Hong Kong and lives there with his new Asian wife. Henry has quit his studies to look after Martha, with whom he shares a mutually dependent and destructive relationship. We soon see that Martha is an alcoholic, addicted to prescription drugs and not at all in full control of her mental faculties.
When Mia arrives we find that, where Henry is the apple of Martha's blurry eye, Mia is at the other end of the scale. There is much disturbing action that happens after this, including Izzy and Mia, with Henry in tow, visiting the still comatose Alice in hospital. There is much angst leading up to the eventual arrival of Hugh, who thinks that using his wealth to square things with the school is all that is required of him. He soon realises that this is the easiest thing that he has to do, eventually deciding that he must have Martha committed for the good of everybody. His discovery of Henry in his mother's slip, emasculated by Martha, is a telling moment.
Kate Roxby presents us with her portrayal of Izzy as a thoroughly nasty piece of work, a cruel bully, but a coward underneath. Her Izzy is morally devoid and sadistic. Her only fear at the collapse of Alice in the opening scene is for her own position and future. Roxby does not shy away from delving into the darkest corners of her character, and her performance is chilling.
Mia also seems to have a lack of a moral code and Elleni Karagiannidis, who plays the role, at first lets us imagine that she is as bad as Izzy. When we see her again, confronting Martha and Henry, Karagiannidis gradually shows us more and more of Mia and we come to understand her better and even to feel sorry for her. Karagiannidis gives a nicely balanced performance that clearly shows the damage suffered by Mia through the breakdown of the marriage and her mother's rejection.
As Alice, Miranda Pike has no lines and we see nothing of her face, yet she has to convey her emotions in that opening scene up to the point of passing out. She does this remarkably well.
We then come to Martha, played by Tamara Lee who gives us another of her totally committed performances as the flawed mother. Martha's alcoholism, drug dependency, and mental deterioration are all clearly displayed, without any histrionics over overplaying. This is a subtle performance that shows many facets of Martha, varying as she drifts in and out of sanity, sober and intoxicated, from controlling her son, to desperately pleading for her freedom. Tamara Lee takes us from disgust to empathy in a marvellous performance. State Theatre, take note!
Matt Crook, as Henry, exceeds his past triumphs, in a performance that matches that of Tamara Lee. His Henry is a complex individual filled, with contradictions. His subservience to his mother becomes a strength when standing up to his estranged father and Crook handles those extremes in a believable portrayal. He and Tamara Lee together generate some terrific interactions. Coincidentally, the role of Henry in the 2007 première was played by another Matt, Matt Smith, the current Doctor Who. Could that be an omen of great things ahead for Crook? I would not be surprised.
Hugh, played by John Maurice, makes his late arrival into the middle of this family on the brink of self-destruction, not prepared to encounter anything of this magnitude. Maurice completes this very even cast, adding another fine performance to the mix as he presents Hugh's transition from a father who thought he was coming back to the family that he left, to find himself facing three strangers.
Corey McMahon has not only selected a superb cast, but he has dug deeply into the script and the psyches, as well as the psychoses of the characters to create a production that has humour at times, thinly disguising the darkness beneath, but that soon becomes a tense and disturbing tale. Make sure that you see this production.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.