Theatre Review: Killing Time, La Mama Courthouse

Celebrated playwright Jack Hibberd’s absurdist new farce is about time, and how it waits for no one.

La Mama Courthouse, with its history-steeped bricks, seems a fitting place for the world premiere of Jack Hibberd’s Killing Time.

Born in Warracknabeal in western Victoria in 1940, Hibberd has written nearly 40 plays in a career spanning 50 years. Some of his earliest plays were staged here at La Mama – most famously, the popular Dimboola, in 1967.

I saw Killing Time on its preview night, with permission from the actors, and it felt like it needed a few kinks ironed out and the timing tightened, but the comic two-hander is impressively held together by its two veterans, Jim Daly and Don Bridges. 

Daly plays Father Time, a booming-voiced, larger-than-life, waistcoat-and-pocket-watch-wearing, upper-class Brit, fond of long-dead composers (Mozart, Wagner) and long-dead novelists (Hemingway).

He passes the time in meaningless conversation with his manservant, Tod (Bridges) – a shuffling, snivelling, dour-mouthed and decrepit comic foil.

Both men, Father Time and Tod, are well past their prime, illustrated by their frame of cultural references (dead artists only, a prejudice against the ‘Huns’ – a WWI-era slight), their language (clangers of now thankfully retired vernacular pepper their speech), even their clothing is of an age long gone.

Hibberd’s Theatre of the Absurd influences are evident – it feels very much like a Beckett play: nothing really happens, just a lot of, well, killing time. Thankfully for a play where not much happens, it’s short. The one-act play runs to 60 minutes.

Jack Hibberd’s ‘Killing Time’ at La Mama Courthouse. Photo: Darren Gill.

Director Denis Moore has crafted some pretty wild physically comic scenes that made me wince for these older actors’ knees. One in particular – a mimed sex scene, where Tod jumps on board to act the role of the maid ­– is so silly and bawdy I could not help but laugh.

Excellent design by Greg Carroll and atmospheric lighting by Jason Bouviard completes the world of the play. The set is a fully-constructed room, which elevates the normally flat-floor stage of La Mama Courthouse about a metre higher than usual – allowing the actors to eyeball and serve asides to the audience with more direct force.

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The walls of the set are naturalistically constructed bricks, black and decaying with age. Two tall Grecian pillars frame the stage – perhaps a nod to the history of Western theatre? An animal skull-as-timepiece hangs above the room – an ever-present reminder of the passing of time. A red neon arrow points towards one of the exits – out of place here in this dingy room-that-time-forgot, but perhaps suitably odd, given the play.

The subject matter of the play – the inevitability of time passing, the slide towards out-of-touch irrelevance, of death and the obscurity coming for us all – is pretty dark, but Killing Time, with its absurdist comic bent, manages to entertain while clocking us with an existential blow.

Killing Time
Writer: Jack Hibberd
Director: Denis Moore
Actors: Jim Daly, Don Bridges
Designer: Greg Carroll
Lighting: Jason Bouviard

La Mama Courthouse, Carlton
9-21 May

Kate Mulqueen is an actor, writer, musician and theatre-maker based in Naarm (Melbourne). Instagram: @picklingspirits Facebook: @katemulq Twitter: @katemulqueen