Almost two years ago I auditioned for a Four Letter Word Theatre play and was knocked back. Since then, I have spent every day training my critical eye and plotting my elaborate revenge in the form of a lukewarm review. Two weeks ago, when fate gifted me the opportunity to review FLW’s Everything Is Fine, the animus within me awoke, poised and ready.
It is unfortunate for me, then, that the production was – dare I say it – an impressive accomplishment of meaning and power. I must admit I was wary of another attempted cerebral incursion on the darker parts of our collective psyche; or an experimental juggernaut of ridiculous impositions and obstructions on the cast; or a humourless circle-jerk of solipsism and misery. All these fears, though, by the final bows, somehow felt ridiculous.
The first act, directed by Arthur Knight, is a series of monologues ranging from a tale of duck-hunting gone wrong, a Russian theatrical production of The Brothers Karamazov, a recount of rebellion at the train station and a shifting, darkening relationship with peanut butter. Each monologue comes off with charm and tonal diversity, somehow relating to personal experiences of psychological turmoil. The highlights belong to Teig Sadhana’s harrowing descent into his own mind amid the grips of ague and Dostoyevsky; and Venus Notarberadino in her understated, heartrending exploration of social ritual and tradition, casting an insidious light on an innocuous jar of peanut butter.
At times these monologues threaten to feel overlong and monotonous. Paige Joustra’s leisurely pontifications on asthma grow tiresome and Sadhana’s verbosity becomes a convoluted spectacle of indulgence – I lost patience at talk of “amniotic fluid of freedom” and “architectonic despair”. But for the most part, the actors deliver effortlessly dynamic performances in the circular set, arena-like and sparsely decorated.
The second act takes on a new cast in a devised play scenario. Directed by Luke Macaronas, this act is an evolving miasma of discomfort that dips in and out of thematically intertwined narratives. An uncomfortable party, a gruelling walk home, a cabaret of physical theatre, a conversation comprised of interrupted silences. Each scene aims to unnerve through non-naturalistic visions of ordinary settings and situations.
At one point, Tombi Lloyd uncontrollably contorts her face while trying to navigate a conversation with a ticket inspector. The rest of the cast melds into a spectral hum of ticket inspector stock phrases. It is a confronting scene, watching and recognising Lloyd’s fear-induced physical debilitation. Later, Lucy Holz is possessed by a robotic dance of sharp movements as the rest of the cast surround her and take on similarly frenzied physicality. These are just two of the striking uses of physical theatre that organically develop the tense atmosphere.
By the end of the play, though, the unrelenting nature of the second act wears thin and becomes predictable. Unfortunately, it is in these closing scenes of the play that the carefully cultivated menace gradually dissipates – particularly when the actors split into pairs to begin a mirroring sequence. These feel more like warm-up exercises than skilfully crafted theatre.
Everything Is Fine is a thoughtful production with intelligent, considered direction. At times, the dialogue becomes tedious and repetitive, the entire play toeing the line of over-indulgence. And, despite the attempt to reconcile two vastly opposing styles from act to act, the play feels uneven. However, these are minor concerns in the face of an otherwise powerhouse production of experimental theatre. I was ultimately elated at the introspective journey a talented cast had taken us on. At times heavy, the play always maintains buoyancy; at times comical, the integrity of the subject matter is never sacrificed. Overall, Everything Is Fine, in which everything is decidedly not fine, offers a deft handling of pertinent issues and ever-shifting tones.
Four Letter Word Theatre’s production of Everything is Fine runs from the 26th – 28th of April at the Guild Theatre.
Image credit: Yufan Jo Chen