Review by Thomas Gregory
Isabella Perversi is objectively one of the best contemporary writers in Australian theatre. The script for Canary, a new one-act play for the Fringe: Rebound festival, is simply the next step in the evolution of a playwright that has the potential to leave a permanent mark on our country’s art history. The production itself, however, highlights some of the challenges that may get in the way of Perversi’s works getting the full recognition they deserve.
Canary is the story of a young woman dealing with loneliness, jealousy of a sibling, and harassment at work. The story is far too recognisable. The toxic real estate agency, the dirty nightclub, even the old suburban home that once belonged to mum and dad are all worlds the audience is instantly transported to by the magic of words alone.
The comedy comes naturally from character, and the drama is highlighted by a refusal to simplify the girl’s reactions to events. This is no better represented than in their opening scene, as she considers whether or not her boss just touched her bottom, and if maybe she even liked it. The play is unforgiving of sexual assault but treats the victim as a real person, and her words come from a place of truth rather than morality.
Perversi, along with director Emma Gough, utilises the small Fringe stage well, physically exploring the space with only a single wooden chair and a sheet of cloth. While the meaning of the crumbled pages that littered the stage never clearly presented itself, they offered a sense of texture to the story of frustration and justifiable rage.
However, at many times the play presented itself as a recital of a brilliant monologue, rather than a character offering a story. There is an argument to be made that, while the play may have originally been written for herself, casting an actor other than Perversi would have offered something more. Perversi is a competent actor, as you would expect from any graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, but does little to add to the script.
I cannot help but wonder - is there a battle within this creative? Someone who is at a professional level in acting, dancing, writing and producing may find it difficult to accept the one skill that outshines all others is not the one she is most passionate about. Or perhaps they feel they cannot trust others to tap the full potential of their work?
The greatest playwrights appear to have often found themselves working with great actors in concert - something magical comes from the partnership of two people who are already great on their own. Perhaps this relationship is the next step required for Perversi - finding the Macy to her Mamet, or Burbage to her Shakespeare.
The production suffers a little due to poor sound, which is at no fault of the creatives. The logistical challenges of using the Fringe commons stage mean the clever use of pre-recorded “off-stage” lines doesn’t have the full effect it could. While the device that circumvents the limitations of monologue is brilliant when used well, some lines were lost due to the quality of the equipment on the night. Fortunately, Perversi herself is an actor who likely never needs a microphone, and the script is so well-written that lost words can be assumed by context anyway.
Canary is a competent, though unimpressive, production of a brilliant one-act play. Despite its failures, it will be one of the stand-out hits of Fringe: Rebound.