Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Review: Concussion (Sydney Theatre Company/Griffin Theatre Company)


Concussion tried to do a lot. From the meta-theatrics, which permeated throughout to the dancing scene changes scored by modern rock songs and a storyline that we discovered in reverse it was always pushing for something greater, something cooler. Unfortunately in this production, I don’t think that vision was achieved. The play began with the central character, Julia addressing the audience to explain that she was taking it upon herself to ensure that we didn’t witness yet another tragedy. Her plan was to take hold of the action and give us a sexy comedic romp. Sadly, this break into reality simply didn’t feel real, and instead of being engaged and intrigued by Rachel Gordon’s performance, I was immediately alienated. If the piece had continued in this vein I probably would have walked away disappointed, but once we got past the unnecessary setting up of the stage by the actors, a moment which seemed to lack any dramatic purpose, everything solidified.

Ross Mueller’s dialogue is very strong, and once the scenes began, the momentum rarely let up. Particularly impressive were brothers Luke and Chris Ryan as the brothers James Junior and James Junior Junior. What could have been disregarded as a piece of novelty casting, produced some of the most memorable moments of the production as we watched how their relationship had deteriorated. The staging allowed for the vignettes to flow seamlessly in and out of each other, and as the story emerged the connections between each character became more and more engaging. It was then quite jarring when the action was halted by the few scene changes that were accompanied by blasting rock songs and exaggerated physical action. These moments that I assume were meant to heighten the tension and emotion, had the opposite effect of slowing down the play and giving the audience time to resettle. It seemed in these moments that the production was caught between the reality of the scenes and the perceived need for stylisation due to the text’s meta-theatrics.

It was in these confused moments that one got the feeling the play was trying just a little too hard. This feeling was strengthened by Julia’s direct address about fellating herself in her dreams. This production was unable to take advantage of the opportunities offered by these non-naturalistic moments and instead they served only to clutter and confuse the narrative rather than build or enhance it. Fortunately the strength of the text and the performances, with a couple of exceptions, carried the action past this, and left me excited by the experience of this new Australian work.

Simon

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