If you don’t know Ché Walker, this play may just place the playwright’s name firmly in the front of your consciousness.
If you don’t know Ché Walker, this play may just place the playwright’s name firmly in the front of your consciousness. In the vein of Martin McDonagh, Walker’s Flesh Wounds, which premiered at the Royal Court in 2003, uses black comedy in the darkest of moments, leaving you breathless at the power of his language, laughing in spite of the terrible moments unfolding, and leaving no doubt as to the impeccable talent of this remarkable writer.
In fact, the same could be said for Exhibit A: Theatre’s production overall. It is infused with enough passion and talent to make this one of the more riveting and exciting pieces of independent theatre you will see in a while, pervaded with direction and performances that are skillfully crafted, leaving you, despite the limited budget and resources at hand, in wonder of what can be achieved with the special mix of artists and script.
Deirdra and Vincent are half-siblings, connected by the same mother and ensconced in a Camden council building, with the usual bleakness that environment brings. Vincent is, quite frankly, a no hoper – none-too-bright and so irresponsible that trouble follows him wherever he lays his sights. Estranged from their mother, Vincent bursts into Deirdra’s flat in a wave of kinetic frenzy. Unbeknownst to him, Deirdra has a visitor hidden the bathroom, Joesph, a man whose air of mystery and malevolence sets the play on a course of intrigue and violence.
What is surprising in this eclectic mix of a play, are the moments of depth and tenderness. It is a heady concoction, aided by an understanding by all concerned of the “moments”, allowing us to jump on the rollercoaster and hold on tight for its enthralling 80-minute ride.
Pollock’s love for this play and its characters is evident from the opening moments. His innate understand of the language, these people and the situations they find themselves in are palpable. He moves the piece with dexterity, never stagy and always organic. He finds a rhythm to the play and never lets go, allowing the reality of the moments to blend with the black humour that pervades the play. Black comedy isn’t for everyone but Pollock seems to use it to add a layer of reality to the craziness that takes hold as the play progresses.
Belinda Misevski is quite simply a revelation as Deidra. In lesser hands, this character could be a screeching banshee but Misevski is mesmerizing as she peels the layers away from this woman stuck in such a hopeless situation. Her survivor instincts and unwavering strength never falter as her walls come plummeting down. It is a star turn and so exciting to watch. The only quibble would be that, even from the front row, she internalised some lines so much that they were difficult to hear. But these were few and far between and never impinged on watching this stunning actor at work. Her speech towards the end of the play was so moving and natural, cementing our understanding and empathy for this fighting spirit.
Jeremy Kewley, channeling everyone from Michael Caine to Ray Winstone and yet making Joseph completely his own, was also a powerful and exciting presence in the production and was the driving force of the piece, leaving us wondering what danger lurked around the next proverbial corner. Able to convey so much with a single look or inflection, Kewley had the audience in the palm of his hand from the opening moment, then clutched on and never let us go. This is an actor at the top of his game and his scenes with Misevski in particular were stunning in their power and dynamic. A wonderful lesson in “less is more” and why it works so well in the right moments. A particular note of gratitude must be made to Felicity Steel’s assistance with the stage combat, expertly performed by the cast, adding a real sense of terror to a few moments that literally had the audience holding their breath.
Vincent is a tricky character to get right and Benjamin Rigby’s intensity added much to aiding us in understanding this man’s reckless ways. There was a question as to whether Vincent had a drug problem but this didn’t come through in the script so it left us to ponder whether this idiot was exactly that – an unintelligent buffoon. What seemed to be lacking from Rigby was an edge. There needed to be an element of an angry, frustrated stick of dynamite about to explode at any moment. Although there were these moments in the play, it came across more as a scared little boy in too deep as opposed to a tormented loner lacking moral fortitude, furious at the world for not understanding him and willing to do anything to survive. Maybe that was an intentional move on the part of the director and actor but it felt like the only missing piece in an otherwise exceptional puzzle. This did not detract greatly from a superb performance from Rigby who, despite sounding from a different region of Great Britain, used a wild energy and his devilish stare to propel us towards a macabre, and frankly disturbing, ending.
Brett Ludeman’s cardboard set was ingenious in its frugal attempt at showing us the drudgery of the council flat. And the shattered glass surrounding the stage added a simple but highly effective element of placement. Lighting was minimal but serviceable, despite the needed blackout at the end, which didn’t happen on the night attended. Costuming was also highly effective, especially Deidra’s tracksuit. Special mention must be made of the evocative uncredited sound effects and the 80s electronica music pre-show which set an ominous tone from the moment we entered the space.
Overall, this was great, entertaining theatre from a young company making an indelible name for themselves and deserves massive support from Melbourne theatregoers. It will be exciting to see what they come up with next.
4 stars out of 5
23 October 2013
by Ché Walker
Directed by Nicholas Pollock
Presented by Exhibit A: Theatre at Goodtime Studios
23rd October – 3rd November, 7:30pm