By Rosie Niven
God I’ve missed theatre. It’s been over 6 months since us Sydney-siders were last allowed to step foot into a theatre, since we could squeeze into a packed room with a bunch of strangers and sip cheap house wine and lose ourselves in someone else’s story for part of an evening. So when there was a chance to get back to the theatre this week for Oliver Mol’s Trainlord, I jumped at the chance.
Arriving at the Old 505 theatre, theatre looks a little different to what it did pre-pandemic. You’re greeted by a person in a mask, reading you safety instructions and taking your temperature before being led to your seat, a seat which is separated from other members of the audience. The excited chatter takes a different form when you can’t speak to others around you. Importantly though, it feels safe, and the team at the Old 505 should be commended for their efforts to find a way to get artists safely back on stage.
After so long without theatre, the audience is itching for an exciting story, and Trainlord delivers just that. This part monologue, part essay, part performance art reflects on a debilitating 10-month long migraine that struck Mol in his late 20s and left him on the brink of taking his own life. It’s a raw and unstructured examination of strength and humanity that is neatly wrapped up in 55 minutes. After a successful run at the Bakehouse Theatre for the Adelaide Fringe in February this year, Mol’s story has finally made it to Sydney.
Although Mol is a long-term writer, Trainlord is his first time taking to the stage, and with him he brings an energy and charm that is instantly engaging. However, it is the writing that truly shines - Mol’s words tell a vivacious story full of self-awareness and honesty, and invites us into every step of his journey. It is this open and unapologetic writing that makes Trainlord so enjoyable from start to finish. Where the writing is lost though is through Mol’s rapid speech pattern and quirky cadence, sometimes skipping over words so quickly multiple sentences seemed to be missed by the entire audience. Part of this appears to be nerves, which makes sense considering the 6 month break in the performance schedule. Part of it felt as though it needed the keen eye of a Director to give it a cleaner direction and clarify the rapid jumps in the story.
The set is a simple chair and white curtain, upon which Kat Chellos’ bright and blurry visuals are projected that plunge us deep into Mol’s mind while he struggles with the biggest medical issue of his life. The videos are rightfully disorienting, although the transitions in these video cues could have been significantly smoother. Same goes for the audio, music by Thomas Gray and Liam Ebbs visceral and striking, but sharply cut, leaving the audience in a limbo of silence that felt out of place. Again, with a Director on board this could be easily resolved.
Being the first show that many (if not all) of the audience have seen in over 6 months is a lot of pressure, but Mol takes it in his stride and delivers a powerful story that defies form. There’s something really lovely about coming back to theatre that’s gone back to its roots and stripped away all of its facade. Trainlord is only on until this Sunday, so if you’re missing the arts and are looking for a way to plunge into it again, this work is a great place to start.