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The Circle at La Mama Courthouse

Review by Taylor Kendal

How will the world end? Global warming? Freezing to death? A ritualistic sacrifice committed by two teenage boys intent on summoning an Eldritch Horror to bring upon the Apocalypse and the death of all mankind?

Wait. One of these is not like the others.

As part of the 2020 Midsumma line up, staged in the intimate space at La Mama Courthouse, The Circle is ‘a queer story combining a love of H.P Lovecraft horror, pulp magazines of the 1930’s, teenage love and a rip-roaring soundtrack of yesteryear’, all in a 45 minute performance. What offers so much promise in so little time, certainly delivers.

From the mind of Jack O’Brien (who also directed, produced and performed), The Circle is a love story to the horror genre, heavily influenced by role playing games, and the likes of master storytellers, such as H.P Lovecraft, which itself provides an abundance of opportunities of where the story could take place. With such a strong theme to explore and not much time to do it in, the performance certainly has its work cut out for it. From the beginning, the audience is spared the long and often time consuming habit of over-saturation and explanation of plot, instead immediately plunged into the story from the moment they walk into the theatre. It’s unsure what, but it is clear that something nefarious and almost sinister is about to take place.

O’Brien’s Hugo is joined on stage by Luke Peverelle as Lance, two teenage boys from an undisclosed city in an undisclosed time, and it is clear from the start that the duo is up to no good, and tensions soon rise, both with the looming end of the world, and emotionally between the two.

Both of these actors portray their roles with seeming effortlessness. Peverelle’s Lance is both charismatic and unhinged as he teeters the line between insanity and evil, his motives and reasons for what is happening coming clear. O’Brien’s Hugo is more reserved and hesitant about it all, providing a heartbreaking performance at times as his concern grow as time wears on and secrets and truths start to come to light.

A special mention needs to be given to Stephanie Mehegan and Bridget-Grace Driver, whose roles were cut short quite early in the story, yet carry a great deal of the performance through their presence alone, as well as some jump scare inducing moments, and a questionable scene involving sock puppets that this reviewer is still quite perplexed about.

Also Isabella Hunt, Marty Shiansky and Ben Roy Keene deserve a round of applause for their incredible set design, lighting and sound respectively.

Holed up in a 1950s diner in the wrong side of town, it seems as though things have taken a turn, and the boys have taken humanity’s fate into their own hands, deciding that it is time to call upon the powers of old and bring forth the end of the world, summoning an ancient entity known only as Shaguraka. The audience is given a slight insight into what is involved in bringing forth this titan of chaos, but what is to come is kept rather under wraps, simply because the boys really have no idea what to expect. All they can do is wait.

This device works in their favour, ignoring the common technique of spending time divulging every step that has gone into play (the who, the what, the how, etc), and replacing it with simply the why. Why have these two decided it was time for the world to end, other than simply put ‘the world is f’d and we need a do-over’.

With the entire story taking place in a singular location, the set is simple yet incredibly effective, consisting of two circles on the floor (one chalk, the other rather effective green lighting), and an old fashioned jukebox in the corner. The simplicity of the staging provides the focus to be on the characters and the storyline without being distracting or ill fitting of the setting.

The severity of the subject matter is broken up by a background soundtrack of 1950s crooners, playing on the old jukebox and creates a wonderful dynamic between the two, particularly contrasting with the rising tension and insanity growing as the clock ticks away, bringing the apparent end of the world closer with every second. Woven into the story is some rather dorky yet well choreographed dance numbers, some air guitar and some incredibly snappy dialogue that has the audience both shocked and laughing throughout the performance.

The Circle delivers an impactful performance in a short time, one that the entire creative team should be incredibly proud of. I can’t help but wonder what could be accomplished with a longer run time, and the chance to explore themes in greater detail, but this performance is one that’s not to be missed.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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