A densely written urban fantasy of love, hate, violence and redemption.
Jessica Messenger’s interweaving narratives pull seemingly disparate characters together in a richly textured tapestry of tale-telling.
Pope is the character of the title, a hard man whose knock alone inspires fear in his agents, who always swear to come through for him. A reputation of kneecappings and finger-snippings precedes him, but his inner drive comes from unlikely visitations and daily haranguing from La Pucelle, Joan of Arc. Pope leads us to The Kid, a hard case and total dickhead. The Kid is on the run, not as much from the law as from his own past, one that binds him dangerously to weakness and victimhood. The Kid creates headaches for Pope by constantly picking fights without thought for the consequences, disrupting gangland merger politics.
The Accountant, Pete, is a character keeping a cool, calm eye on the bigger picture. Competent accountant by day, mafia hitman by night, he seems on top of his game when he bumps into the romantically challenging Rosalind, whose domestic cares seem a world away from the sordid scenes needing Pete’s quick draw with the needle. Ghosts, apart from La Pucelle, haunt all the characters, whether dead siblings, parents, discarded selves, ex-partners, bringing further layers of believable being to each role in this character-driven work.
In terms of acting, Nick Maclaine and Laura Hopwood are outstanding. Maclaine has the relatively straightforward task of presenting the many facets of Pete the Accountant, which he does with debonair, sociopathic charm. Hopwood brings a resilient despair to Rosalind, while also smoothly portraying a self-assured La Pucelle, delivering fluid lines in both English and French. The Kid (Esther Longhurst) is also well-depicted, with her violent over-protest against any feminine traits – whether weakness or virtue – ringing consistently true, if a little coarsely so. Theo Messenger moves through so many bit parts that it seems that there is more than only the one actor occupying so many roles, but there is never any confusion as to who or what he is playing at any given moment – important, with so many mingled storylines.
Mario Piccoli as Pope is physically perfect in the role, seizing all attention with his presence. He inhabits the contradictions of the role and brings them to life, the visionary with a mission to find his own ‘Dauphin’, the collecting agent who understands the need for basic human dignity and the collection of regrets that age can bring. The only flaw in Piccoli’s performance is the opening-night stumbling over some of his lines – as a Standover Man it hardly seems possible that anyone would stammer and lose momentum with word choice, and it disproportionately detracts from the believability of the role.
The Standover Man rejoices in a set that utilises space effectively while allowing room for gritty details that set the mood. Using hand-held torches in various scenes keeps the atmosphere suitably ‘dark’ and is a clever use of lighting technique. The fight choreography is intense, the physicality bringing momentum and movement in an authentic, yet entertaining, manner. Costumes are well selected, and the choice of tattoos for Pope (assuming they are not the actor’s own) are richly symbolic. Further, a sight gag involving getting food from a ‘cupboard’ and a ‘fridge’ was one of the play’s many laughter-inducing moments, relieving the tension in a scene with its low-tech pragmatism.
The Standover Man has so many ideas and themes crammed into a small production, the script groans and strains at its seams. The motif of the ‘still small voice’ is a delicate counterpoint to the vast personal histories, dysfunctional families, rage, sorrow, rejection and quests for oblivion, escape and redemption pursued by the various characters. Awesome in scope, at times overwhelming to witness, a dramatic contribution to the Independent Theatre Festival.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The Standover Man
Produced by Stained Glass Robot and Ellandar Productions
Written and Directed by Jessica Messenger
Stage Manager: Belinda Huggins
Sound Design: Hannah Sorenson
Performed by Laura Hopwood, Esther Longhurst, Nick Maclaine, Theo Messenger and Mario Piccoli
Subiaco Arts Centre, Subiaco
Independent Theatre Festival
26 – 29 March