Clocking in at just an hour, Liz Newell’s play, Alone Outside crafts a delicate portrait that moves too slowly and ambles too indulgently to be fully appreciated. Taking a narratorial approach to ever-shifting family dynamics and growing up rural, Newell taps into universal experiences of love, loss and compassion. It is unfortunate to see such interesting themes and topics collapse beneath a logy execution. Further, the script’s glacial pacing and one-note approach to its subject material contributes to the play’s unrelenting dreariness.
Upon entering the space, the performance has begun, as Sharon Davis, billed as ‘Performer’, sits on an old upturned truck tyre. The rest of the stage is bare. The performer waits for the audience to settle before embarking on an hour-long monologue that, unfortunately, lacks dramaturgical vigour. Director Lyall Brooks has, in the programme, explicated the “restraint and care” required by such a “meticulously crafted” script. Unfortunately, this minimalist approach – an hour of leisurely laps around the stage with two pitstops to lie across the tyre – falls short of underscoring Newell’s accounts of love and death, rather giving the impression of an underutilised performance space. This is no Swimming to Cambodia.
The pared back style, while with drawbacks, does have its charms, largely thanks to Davis’s engaging characterisation. Being a series of recounts, Davis imbues each leg of the narrative with deeply emotional conviction. Dealing with the death of the character’s mother, Davis breaks down in a moment of quiet devastation. Contrasting her earlier conversational tone, this can only amplify the sense of tragedy we have felt brewing in the stark setting.
If the direction had a more physically considered edge to it, Davis’s performance surely could have been elevated above the monotony of such a prosaic script. Or at least, distracted from the clunky sound design, mostly constructed of radio pop songs to signal a scene transition. The tacky selection of music suffers most of all from rapid fades in and out, too unsubtle and meaningless to justify its use.Even still, Davis’s performance suffers from feeling repetitive.
Ultimately, Alone Outside deals with a range of issues that have a lot of potential to be interesting talking points. By the end, though, one cannot help but feel like a witness to an assembly of missed opportunities and anticlimaxes.
Lab Kelpie’s production of Alone Outside ran from the 14th-29th of September as part of the 2018 Melbourne Fringe Festival.
Image credit: Theresa Harrison