Review by Thomas Gregory
Point8Six may be one of the most frenetic, complex, and enjoyable comedies you will see this year. In 70 minutes you will experience more than most two-hour plays as every member of the cast and crew put their all into providing a spectacle usually reserved for much larger stages.
Point8Six (referring to the time between heartbeats) is a comedy about time travel, technology, and family. With clear inspiration from Samuel Beckett and Terry Gilliam, it is an ambitious play in both dialogue and visuals. Moving between the years 2142 and 1971 East Germany, a scientist attempts to send time travellers to stop an inevitable war, while the two sisters who instigated the war refuse to accept their fates.
The six stars of the show are all brilliant, both as individuals and as an ensemble. Tim Wotherspoon (who also wrote the play) sometimes channels Christopher Lloyd while other times Gene Wilder, as an archetypal mad scientist that never falls into cliche. Lliam Amor as the bumbling Sal Danger finds a way to capture humanity under the stupidity, while Matt Furlani’s Ernst is devious without being too antagonistic. Leigh Lule is perhaps the actor most comfortable with following her story arc and presenting her character appropriately. While this may be confusing for the first scenes, it is greatly appreciated by the end.
Rebecca Bower’s Charlotte is as beautiful and sweet as she is mad, and it is easy to draw parallels to Hamlet’s Ophelia or River from the television show Firefly.
If there is an actor who should be mentioned apart from the others, even though all are brilliant, it would have to be Annabel Marshall-Roth. As the revolutionary Maidie, and “straight” character among the mad-cap crazy all around, we believe in the premise because we believe we are in the presence of someone who could change the world.
Kirsten von Bibra must have been quite thankful for such a talented cast when directing Point8Six because the challenges presented by the script were neither few nor easy to solve. Seamlessly moving actors on and off stage is rarely something a director would struggle with; in this play, someone less experienced would be unable to choreograph the quick scene changes as well as von Bibra. No part of the stage is wasted, nor height above it, and some scenes (which I will not spoil) make you wonder if the play could be held anywhere else. Von Bibra can extract the best from all their actors, helping them play to their strengths.
If the cast of Point8Six is to be praised, the crew is to be revered. There must have been well over fifty lighting cues for this short production, a range of sound effects that needed to be perfectly in time with the cast, and even live video projection. In a production so complex, the technicians ran a near-perfect show in a theatre not always suited for such a project.
Special mention must be given to the fight choreographers, Felicity Steel and their assistant Josh Bell. I had recently attended Bell Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” at the Arts Centre and if by magic its producers are reading this, please hire Steel and Bell next time instead. Sometimes the violence may have been too visceral for a “comedy” and a particular scene with a knife may have been a little too ambitious for the stage. Still, for the cast to walk away from such a physical piece of theatre with no injury is incredible.
If there is a complaint to be made about the play, it might be that is too ambitious, demanding too much from an audience.
All six characters in Point8Six have their own distinct chronology in this unchronological play, and while each story makes complete sense by the end of it, keeping six balls in the air as an audience member can distract from your enjoyment and leave a slight headache as you leave the theatre. While a great example of Wotherspoon's ability to handle a topic as complex as time travel, it is a less pleasing example of entertainment.
A similar problem can be found in the language of the play.
The play opens with an incredible monologue by Rebecca Bower as Charlotte. Reminiscent of Godot’s Lucky, except with a tinge of expectant meaning that will be available in the future. “Rambling” but poetic, if you could turn off your ability to recognize words, you could be hearing music. It’s captivating.
However, by the fifth monologue of complex turns of phrase, run-on sentences, and complicated vocabulary, it is difficult not to tire of the technique. Yes, the political speech of Maida is far different from the philosophical awakening of Sal Danger, but only the most determined will find a reason to pay attention to what is being said.
Finally, this is a piece of theatre. While the incredible cast and crew were able to keep up with the vast majority of visual gags, a very small number of visuals were written with film in mind. It would be impossible for any company to perfectly present some of these gags, and it would not have harmed the play in any way for them to have been removed. While these occurrences were rare, they tended to remind me of the conflicted nature of the script - what media was Wotherspoon writing for?
In recognition of the title of the play, I offer this analogy.
A cup of coffee is amazing in the morning. Rich and delicious, with the chemicals you need to wake up and tackle the world that is about to come your way. Thirty cups of coffee in a single sitting, however, can lead to vomiting, seizures, and even death. Point8Six has all the hallmarks of the best coffee in Melbourne - but it feels like I had ten of them.