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REVIEW: Stunt Double at Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre

Review by Grace Swadling

Created by Gold Coast dance and theatre collective ‘The Farm’, Stunt Double opens on a bare stage as actors assemble the set piece by piece and the house lights stay on. The audience are transported to the film set of the fictional Australian action-packed blockbuster, ‘Don’t Wake The Dark’ where the stunt doubles give their blood, sweat and tears in every take, only for the actors to reap all the glory. Set in the 1970s, Stunt Double is a high-energy, hilarious exploration about the complex power hierarchies and dynamics within the film industry,

Performers Grayson Millwood, Kate Harman, Gavin Webber, Essie Horn, David Carberry, Matt Cornel and Ngoc Phan worked brilliantly together to bring this extravaganza to life. Performances were charged - stakes were high for the characters and the actors played this accordingly, even in moments of humour. But the unsung heroes of the performance were the certain few members of the audience selected to round out the ensemble as extras and crew. Stunt Double promised an immersive experience and it did not disappoint as these audience members were given boom mics, the clapper, props and even lines. It really was an incredible use of audience participation - blurring the lines between reality and theatre and creating humorous moments whilst also serving a meaningful purpose.

Stunt Double is a frenetic romp but it also works on a dual level to highlight the dark and absurd realities of this industry. We watch the stunt doubles perform intense and physically demanding sequences over and over again and watching in real time the exhaustion of the stunt doubles increase was incredibly powerful. The show feels timely too; particularly in light of the SAG writers and actors strikes and the ripple effect this is having on the Australian film and television industry. The final image of Stunt Double was a viscerally powerful nod to this and poignantly revealed the exploitation and power dynamics that haven’t really gone away in the last fifty years, only shifted and reinvented.

But aside from this, the show was also just highly entertaining from start to finish. The care and energy put into the stunt sequences really shone through - the stunts were impressively believable. Fight choreography and stunts in theatre are notoriously tricky to pull off but the performers and stunt consultants Marco Sinigaglia and Carly Rees worked in perfect tandem to execute each stunt. The frenetic car chase sequence - involving multiple stunt men and women throwing themselves off a real-live car - was one of the most impressive scenes I’ve seen in live theatre to date!

Indeed, all of the technical elements of Stunt Double worked together to elevate these impressive scenes. Tyler Hill’s set design was amazing - I almost felt like the show could have benefited from a smaller space to retain some intimacy but the set remained impressive and a stark reminder that this was indeed a theatre, a film set and a make believe world. The moving set pieces invoked an old Hollywood feel but with a distinctly ‘Australiana’ feel. Hill also served as the costume designer and the simple but iconic costumes helped ground the piece - especially with the dual costumes needed for the stunt doubles and their actors which became visually powerful.

Luke Smiles’ sound design was another impressive feature, tying together the Australian setting through the use of classic Aussie rock but also through the perfectly timed sound effects of punches, hits and falls. Smile’s work combined with Chloe Ogilvie’s wonderful lighting design also served to highlight the beautifully intricate and lyrical movement sequences that punctuated the show. Although this seemed a little at odds with the larrikin-style humor and silliness showcased in the other scenes, they were fascinating to watch and visually striking.

Indeed, this production was not grounded in reality but by the end developed into pure absurdity. There is an overarching plot that at times seems disjointed but at the end of the day it is hard not to be engaged by the piece. It evokes nostalgia for a specific sliver of Australian culture but also feels contemporary and relevant. Stunt Double’s run as part of Brisbane Fringe may be over, but if the show does return next year, it definitely needs to be seen to be believed!

Image Supplied


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