Four Letter Word’s production Triptych introduces three new works written and directed by students from or affiliated with the University of Melbourne. Cherry Bomb, The Mutineer, and Terrorism vary widely in tone and subject matter, ranging from the politics of student theatre, to colonialism, to terror and surveillance. They combine to present a refreshing and thought-provoking collection of theatre.
James O’Donoghue’s Cherry Bomb, directed by Jaidan Mereki Leeworthy, follows four characters as they attempt to launch a new product, delving into the politics of start-up projects. The play had some nice, humorous moments, with a punchy script that was satirical and hit close to home. Similarly, its use of music was strong, with pop-y, energetic numbers to support its tone and script. However, as punchy as it was, the script did seem to lack momentum at times. The breaks and mid-sentence interruptions were not quite tight enough to keep the play’s energy going. Furthermore, their frequency occasionally lost the substance of what was being said, and in turn lost the audience. While the cast was generally strong, there were definitely moments that lacked energy. Audibility was also a problem, with the actors occasionally turning away from the audience. While this is not an intrinsically bad thing, in this case its frequency made performers seem disengaged, and lines difficult to hear. However, Rosie Cox as Lindsay delivered a particularly impressive performance. She was energetic, entertaining, and demonstrated a strong understanding of her character. Although actors skipping or paraphrasing lines is not usually a noticeable problem in performances, they most certainly are when the performance is subtitled. This happened several times in Cherry Bomb, and while the play continued unscathed, the skipping slides projected above meant the audience knew exactly what they were missing out on. In the end, the play’s conclusion left it on a humorous and intriguing note, and offered an exploration of student theatre that I would have liked to see more of.
The Mutineer, written by Simon Farley and directed by Freya McGrath explored ethnicity and colonialism through the lens of a fantasy world. The performances were most certainly energetic, keeping the audience engaged at all times. However, the energy was, at times, too high, with too much shouting and yelling. This detracted from the performance rather than adding to it, both in its believability and in the audience’s engagement. Similarly, the long monologues delivered by Alice Wheaton were tedious at times, particularly when they seemed unrelated to the plot. While this is partially a problem with the script, I think there were directorial choices that missed opportunities to flesh out Wheaton’s character and add nuances to the script. Farley’s fantasy world is complex, and he should be commended on the intricacies and attention to detail in the script. However, while the fantasy world was somewhat interesting, it did not quite achieve engagement with the real world issues of ethnicity and colonialism. In space of such a short play, the reflection of these issues was too broad and simplistic, it failed to give any novel insight in them. The fantasy world may have been complex, but the exploration of these themes lacked the same intricacy.
In the conceptual piece Terrorism, written by Jean Tong and directed by Declan Mulcahy, surveillance, violence and war are among the themes explored. The play contained some particularly pertinent and thought-provoking scenes, highlighting the way we justify and ignore violence, conflict and restrictions of liberty. The directorial choices in these scenes were excellent, with jumps between movement sequences, realism and melodrama lending vicissitude and nuance to the play. However, as a whole the play seemed to lack a running thread, and some scenes suffered in their effectiveness because of their removal from context. Discussions of certain conflicts and atrocities were hard to comprehend or relate to without reference to location, political context, or time period. While this was no doubt a deliberate choice, and an interesting one at that, its execution detracted from the exploration, rather than adding to it. The cast did a relatively good job of juggling the variety of characters, with a stand out performance from Aram Geleris. His performance unique in that, despite playing a variety of characters, each was developed to the full. Where some other performances seemed homogenous – like the same character telling different stories – Geleris developed real, believable characters in an incredibly short space of time, commanding them with audibility and concision. In terms of the set, it was an interesting idea to allow the audience to stand and move around the set. Similarly, the use of practical effects was impressive and effective in its ability to dictate the movements of the audience. A TV screen pointing away from the audience forces them to change positions, while bright lights and limited seating space adds an extra level of discomfort to the themes of the play. Terrorism is most certainly the kind of play that demands this level of audience involvement.
Overall, Triptych presented an engaging night of theatre. Undoubtedly, each play had areas which could be improved. Nonetheless, new theatre, particularly when written by young people, presents fresh interpretations of both thematic material and the nature of theatre. It is something that should be celebrated, and that I hope to see more of in the future.
Four Letter Word’s production Triptych ran from May 25th – 18th in the Guild Theatre.