Review by Mikaela O’Sullivan
Slow Burn by Your Man Alex Smith, which was performed at the Arcana Festival Hub in Moorooka tells the story of a “doomed romance” and explores cycles of trauma and abuse in a musical theatre format. In this world premiere of the show, Alex Smith the trauma strung lover is played by Your Man Alex Smith with Louella Baldwin playing the role of Julia Bryer, Alex’s abusive ex. Baldwin also doubles as the director for this production. The hour-long performance gives a quick insight into the stages of both physical and mental abuse in the doomed relationship and reveals the rollercoaster of emotions that can be felt both during and in the aftermath of abuse.
Trauma and abuse is successfully conveyed in the staging of this production. Vivid flashbacks of key moments in the pair's relationship are captured in dream-like forms in which Smith presents his story in real time. Julia appears close by showing the events of the past. The lighting further illustrates these recollections of challenging times with red lighting flooding the stage to indicate danger. The use of handheld flashlights by the cast helped to create the flurry of emotions Smith was feeling and gave the idea of light shining through dark times in their relationship. The costuming also tied in with the themes of the production with cast members dressed in various clashing colours and prevailing hints of red throughout. Julia appears in a red flowy knee length dress for the entire show, which visually portrayed her altering personalities. The costume changes among the cast against Julia’s red dress gave the idea that everything around her was shifting but her abusive nature always remained present.
Smith's lyrics throughout the show capture the ups and downs of an abusive relationship and the effects it can have on the person who must endure the physical and mental abuse “I need someone to rescue me … I gotta get out”. The band on stage consisted of piano, drums, bass and electric guitar. The band accompanies Smith on the musical journey with hints of jazz music and rock elements creeping through to differentiate the romantic moments from the outbursts of aggression Julia imposed on Smith. The combination of music, light and acting for the song “Trigger” highlight the trauma that still prevails for Smith based on his reaction to seeing Julia for the first time since their breakup. Personal soliloquies by Smith between songs helped to build upon the plot, giving the audience a view into his mind “Why did you stay with her? … She made me laugh, it wasn’t always bad”. The songs throughout the production clearly describe that despite all the abuse and the trauma that Julia left with Smith, this was still not enough to stop him from caring about Julia from afar. This was a touching display that showed the true range of human emotions and indicated that not every abusive relationship ends in a hatred of the person you once loved.
While this production gives the audience a modern take at depicting trauma and abuse, it has to be said that some elements did not work on stage. Unfortunately the show began with a rough start as technical difficulties arose for Smith’s mic. The beginning of the storyline was missed and the mic failed a couple more times throughout the show. This was disappointing but is definitely something that could have been avoided in a show of this scale. Although the cast sang a few choruses with Smith throughout the show, the lyrics were lost as we could not hear the cast, it was evident that no mics were placed among cast members and this choice let the show down. The lighting design for the show used blues, reds and purples to add atmosphere to each scene, the colours used quickly became repetitive and as a result of this, some scenes lacked a clear differentiation from one emotion to another. For further development, the lighting design could be expanded on with the inclusion of a broader colour palette. A combination of styles of choreography were implemented throughout the show ranging from tap dancing to group numbers to contemporary dance which did help to convey the storyline, however at times the group movements felt clumsy as cast members fumbled across the stage. It felt as though there was a lack of direction for the cast and the movements weren’t calculated, which in turn developed into fumbling and awkwardness on stage. As a viewer, it became distracting rather than complimenting key moments in the plot. This is something that could be quickly fixed and the movements could be calculated further to allow the cast to move with a better flow.
Slow Burn as a whole is a promising production with the potential to become even better over time. The themes throughout the show encourage necessary conversation and awareness of both physical and mental abuse and the trauma it can inflict on an individual. The music and lyrics depict the cycle of trauma with clear motifs illustrating love and mental war. It cannot be overlooked that some elements of the production need more attention but overall it is a production that will soon blossom across world stages.