Review by Kate Gaul
Brothers Tom, Harry and Miles live with their father, an abalone fisherman, on the south-east coast of Tasmania. Everyday their dad battles the unpredictable ocean to make a living. He is a hard man, a bitter drinker who harbours a devastating secret that is destroying him. Unlike Tom, Harry and Miles are too young to leave home and so are forced to live under the dark cloud of their father's mood, trying to stay as invisible as possible whenever he is home. Harry, the youngest, is the most vulnerable and it seems he bears the brunt of his father's anger.
The mystery at the heart of the novel leaves its readers full of questions. The adaptation to the stage by writer Julian Lanarch and production directed by Ben Winspear adds an extra opaque layer. Three young actors Meg Clarke, Ryan Hodson, and Griffin McLaughlin interchangeably play all three brothers plus their father and uncle Nick. The actors are never asked to entirely inhabit each character, so it is perhaps more accurate to say they characters are voiced by the actors. One certainly must be on the lookout for clues of character change and changes of location. The production becomes a treasure hunt for audiences who love to listen keenly and follow story lines across time. It can be a demanding experience if you are unfamiliar with the source material.
So, rather than a straightforward narrative we are offered a poetic interweaving of images, and sounds from the play text. The text is both narration and dialogue. Mostly it ebbs and flows – much like the tides with which it resonates. The cast don’t have the experience to make this text dazzle through the dynamics of tempo or nuance of personalised or detailed imagery. We can forgive them that. What would be helpful is a more considered orchestration of delivery. The play flags across its 85 plus minutes leaving some audience members – overheard in the foyer afterwards – often baffled. I’m all for leaving space the audiences do some of the work but sometimes you gotta meet us more than halfway. Meg Clarke is memorable amongst the cast and brings the most clarity to her performance.
A bare bones setting (Keerthi Subramanyam) is supported but immersive video design (Nema Adel) which is at its best when the overwhelming waves become a real force against which the characters are battling. It is both a literal and metaphoric force.
I believe atyp has attracted a substantial school’s audience to this piece. I am sure the young audience will enjoy seeing actors play out this dark tale in such an innovative way (ie, the sharing of roles across the production). I was taken aback by the $60 ticket full price for the non-schools’ performances and wondered who the audience for this production might be. It certainly gave me pause to consider the merits of the subsidised professional scene vs the vibrant and unsubsidised independent programs in Sydney right now.