If you like intelligent, brilliantly constructed, acutely relevant and deeply affecting theatre, go and see Great White.
As I see it, reviews serve three main audiences. There are those looking to see a show, who read reviews to assist with decision making; there are those directly involved in the production, who have a vested interest; and there are those who seek opinions of shows they’ve already seen. This first paragraph is for the first category. Go see Great White. The play is darkly funny, beautiful and terrifying all at the same time. It explores relationships and fear. If you like intelligent, brilliantly constructed, acutely relevant and deeply affecting theatre, stop reading here and go and see Great White blind.
The Perth Fringe World season of Great White is a remount. The development season took place in June last year at the Blue Room, earning both awards and acclaim. And deservedly so – the piece takes some basic structures, a few universals, and builds on these to tell its story in a fresh and cutting way. Jack (Will O’Mahony) is out swimming at a deserted beach, his girlfriend Lauren (Mikala Westall) recently returned to shore, when a shark (Adriane Daf), humanised as a girl he knew at school, approaches. ‘I’m going to eat you,’ she says.
And thus begins a sort of negotiation, backed by a script so tightly sewn, so balanced, it’s as if the seams cease to exist. The shark here is a universal and infinitely relatable allegory for fear, used to peel back the other two characters to the marrow. It is important that the shark cries in the production, for example, and expresses grief, because she does so on behalf of Jack and Lauren. She is not so much the main conflict as a brilliant device used to develop the characters and the real conflict and tension of the story – the relationship conflict arising from Lauren’s unplanned pregnancy.
At first I saw clichés in the recognisable base of the play. I saw Jack expressing a predictable male fear of commitment, for example. But their crisis (outside of the shark), though familiar, is subject matter rarely explored at all, let alone with such honesty and by such complex characters.
These roles are executed by O’Mahony, Westall and Daf with startling skill; the play is one of immersion and the three actors are in deep harmony, constantly reacting with subtlety and complete commitment to their characters. Daf, as the shark, is deeply frightening – almost too much. Westall and O’Mahony have timing and pace down to a succinct, perfect artform. Their characters are people you know. Their fears are your fears. The tension they create restricts your breathing and tightens your chest, creating an experience as physical as it is emotional.
All this backed by flawless, incredibly simple production – lighting that fades out the background when the physical danger is remembered; a simple, ingenious set consisting entirely of oversized balloons and subtly in the script – and Great White becomes quite possibly the best written, best constructed, most physically and emotionally affecting plays this reviewer has ever seen in Perth, if not anywhere.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Performed by Will O’Mahony, Mikala Westall and Adriane Daf
Writer and Director: Will O’Mahony
Designer: Alicia Clements
Lighting Designer: Joe Lui
Sound Designer: Will Slade
PICA Performance Space, Perth Cultural Centre, Northbridge
10 - 15 February
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What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level