“A perfect demonstration that you don’t always need high production value if you have a good idea”
Sirenna and Elise are putting on a play about two women putting on a play about two women putting on a play. It’s their first venture together, and they really have no idea what they’re doing. They know they’re being ripped off by the venue, they know they don’t know anything about marketing and they know that if they don’t completely sell out, they’re going to lose a lot of money and face. But they’ve decided to go ahead all the same.
The play itself is a continuous story about the lead-up to putting on a play (about the lead-up to putting on a play and so on), but often we’re uncertain whether we’re watching the play or the play within the play, as are Sirenna (Olivia Baker) and Elise (Evangeline Duncan). In a confusing babble trying to work out which they’re talking about, Elise cuts in, “Is this the play? Wait…this is real life. Right?”
And the requirements for the play with the play continuously effect the play itself. After a discussion with the “very attractive but generally unhelpful” technician (Josh Redding), for example, who demands they not use real coffee in the play (“no liquids on stage”) they appear in the next scene holding empty coffee cups, pretending to drink.
Baker and Duncan create a very believable friendship, built on a seemingly genuine love and respect for one another which is expressed through seemingly stupid things, such as excitement over matching coffee orders, or entire conversations about why one another’s outfits are so great. Similarly, bubbling tensions are shown in minor quibbles and sideways glances. The characters seem so whole that I was quite surprised to see the actors didn’t go by the same name.
The play’s concept being set in a theatre, there’s not much required in the way of scenery or props – just a couple of coffee cups and mobile phones and we’re away! A perfect demonstration that you don’t always need high production value if you have a good idea.
It’s a Playception will not have you up all night trying to work out what it all means – there’s no ever-lasting spinning top to make you feel like you’re losing your mind. That being said, the central concept is fun and, though a silly idea in theory, very cleverly and wittily executed.
“Turn Point Theatre’s production is poignant yet warming, but a more daring approach to the acting would do justice to this original and thoughtful play”
Ellie and Jack dream of having a family. After a series of miscarriages, they have a son. But he dies and their world is shattered. ‘River in the Sky’ exposes their contrasting reactions for coping with the loss and pain – to detach from the familiar past or immerse oneself in it – until they realise that they need to help each other work through the mourning and begin to heal. Over the comfort of tea and biscuits, they argue to release the unsaid and distract and reconnect by telling each other stories of fantastical beasts.
Writer and director, Peter Taylor, captures and bonds both human and dramatic elements of the couple’s agonising fragility, artfully incorporating the various stages of bereavement into their own experience. He personifies grief as the enormous, overpowering monsters in their tales, the pair struggling separately to overcome them; only when they finally join forces can they challenge their demons. Taylor weaves the many layers of this distressing and complex subject into an imaginative drama. From the clever riddle of the first scene, we get wrapped up in the detailed descriptions of fighting against these oppressive powers and then, like the characters, we are brought back to earth, reminding them and us of the inescapable continuity of everyday life.
Howard Horner portrays Jack with a genuine disarray of torn emotions. We are drawn to the young father’s tenderness, caught up in his vivid nightmares and empathise with his confused feelings of attachment towards Ellie. Only at the end when he briefly mirrors the child is there a slightly uncomfortable, affected moment. As Ellie, Lindsey Cross’s performance is lower key. Her storytelling lacks the passion of one desperately running away from reality; she creates expressive movement to the words but there is little dynamic contrast in her voice or pacing. It is as if the volume button has been turned down vocally and emotionally and, though sensitive to the script, it comes across more as a poetical rendering. Anastasija Roitenberga’s sparing stage set of four large cubes works as cliff, rocks, table, chairs, cot… as well as looking, perhaps unintentionally, like children’s building blocks; her lighting adds spirit to the illusions.
The title ‘River in the Sky’ could be interpreted in various ways. It is perhaps the power and inevitability of nature, a boundary to be crossed, the perception of time passing or simply life itself, from source to sea. Turn Point Theatre’s production is poignant yet warming, but a more daring approach to the acting would do justice to this original and thoughtful play.