Review By Lee Sarich
My first time to the Old 505. An easy 5 minute walk from Newtown station, Eliza Street is more like a paved lane. There’s a sign at street level and fairy lights going up along the rail beside the concrete stairs. Stamped out, smoked almost to the end, thin roll your own butts on the stairs set the stage for this cosy, comfortable theatre. Inside is relaxed and inviting.
Walking into the theatre from the bar area/anteroom finds the actors already on stage and there’s a moment when I wonder if somehow I’ve missed the start. Being caught off balance immediately captures my attention and adds to the sense that I’ve just walked in on these characters lives. A shattered beat to the music as I flick from character to character who each seem momentarily caught in a transfixed loop of their own world has me feeling… fractured. The show starts with Xavier Coys character being asked rapid fire questions in what seems like a mental health type interview. The questions are being asked by the characters standing behind him. It is one person asking the questions? It it several? Is it a mental health professional? Other clients in the facility? And the answers. They’re not all supplied by the Xavier character - do we ever learn his name? The characters behind are asking questions and providing answers, in a different personality, inner dialogue type fashion. It’s impactful, uncentering- distorting.
It occurs to me now I can’t remember the names of any of the characters. I’m hoping this is deliberate or I’m about to become one of the worst reviewers ever. I should really take notes.
Actors and writers et al might get funny about me not remembering character names. Xavier's character flows through what appears to be a disordered chaos to a levelling out, even mastery over internal dialogues and managing outer experiences. There’s clear progression in shaky nervous posture and cutting anxious speech to calm confidence born of self acceptance. The arc is matched by costume, from T-shirt’s to collars. His journey is intersected by the lives of the other nine characters nonlinearly, which further adds to the unsettling, what’s coming next, feel.
Lex Marinos plays an ageing husband and father beginning a decent into Alzheimers. Forgetting his shoes, mixing Track pants with collared shirt and coat his decline is mapped by increasing isolation from his loving wife and son into fiercely confused introspection. His wife is played by Sheree Zellner who battles with her own identity as her marriage collapses. Michael Arvithis Plays their son who tries to manage his own deteriorating relationships with both parents, while struggling with pressures as a firefighter with colleague David Woodland. Woodland and Arvithis dance a blokey dance of traumatised first responders awkwardly seeking support and connection. Woodland is over the top, boisterous and blustering to a more thoughtful and considerate Arvithis, both reach their limits trying to keep it all together. Between the two is an enjoyable banter and deep understanding from shared perils.
We meet Poppy Lynch as a disaffected young woman working with Emma Louise collecting funds for bushfire relief. It’s the first of many jobs we see Louise in as she strives to find somewhere to belong. Neither is she able to find satisfaction in her dating life with beautiful displays of horrendous self doubt. Lynch hooks up with Jack Walton in what evolves into a mutually frustrating catastrophe, with Waltons sensitivity and passion falling dead against Lynch’s indifferent discontent. Building misunderstandings, resentment and disappointment eventually lead to an unguarded moment of pureness sublime. Tristan Mckinnon is the drug addicted brother of Kate Rutherford. From cocky charm to writhing screaming angst, Mckinnon sinks into morass of addiction to emerge hopeful, inspired. Rutherford plays Mckinnons sister, failing to save him from himself she finds value in just being available - to him. To the ailing husband and father, she’s seen as dominatrix, providing certainty and spark in a dully disintegrating world. To Xaviers character she is an ally, a connection hard sought and cherished, to her daughter fierce protector and to her colleague a friend.
It all unfolds on a minimalist set. A bench becomes a couch, and a seat at a train station. A bar that’s a breakfast nook, and a lunch room. A table in a dinning room or café. In its entirety its an expensive apartment, or a museum, a bordello. Often with several actors on stage lighting jumps from scene to scene, highlight one while allowing the other to fade and linger, enhancing the overall connectedness of all the stories.
It’s a wild ride. Wildly pleasing. Director Richard Hilliar has tied together purposefully fragmented scenes and characters, tightly enough to allow a followable flow, loosely enough to allow writer Xavier Coys vision to be clearly seen in Distorted focus.
It’s a wild ride, but like all the best “Its worth it… It is!”
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.