As an avid fan of independent theatre, and theatre in general, the launch of a new theatre company is always something that grabs my excitement. Launching their company with a production of Stephen Belber’s “TAPE”, Play Dead Theatre has made a confident and assertive entrance into the already thriving theatre scene of Victoria, delivering a performance that holds back no punches in tackling one of the most taboo topics plaguing our society and making it accessible through the perspectives of three very different, but equally fascinating characters.
The script itself is one that, despite being widely circulated in both plays and movies around the world since 2000, has yet to lose its relevance through the commentary it makes about human behavior and the toxic culture that is still deplorably embodied by men and women, especially present in college/university aged students. The straightforward and explicit nature in which these themes are explored really benefits the show, adding a real level of sophistication and understanding to the performance. One of the most powerful aspects about the show is how the themes and questions explored in the piece cause the audience to reflect on their own past and the decisions they’ve made (and have since regretted) in their lives. It is one of the many ways the show exercises its ability to transport the audience into the narrative.
For the entirety of the performance, it really does feel as though the audience is the fourth character of the piece, which is due to both the environment in which the show is set and the physical staging of the piece. Positioned inside an actual hotel room, I was immediately brought both physically and mentally into the world of the play. It is a very powerful thing to be watching a performance, and unconsciously feeling yourself become less of an observer and more of a participant in the narrative simply by being exposed to the show in such an unorthodox way. Director Jennifer Sarah Dean really should be commended for making this show less of a ordinary production and more of an experience.
The highlight of the show, however, comes in the trio of confident and unsettlingly believable performances by the cast. The play opens as very much of a ‘two-hander’, relying enormously on the dynamic and relationship between the two male characters of the piece to not only persuade the audience to invest into the lives and attitudes of the show’s characters, but also to drive forward the narrative leading into its explosive second half. While there were some moments in the first few minutes of the performance in which the exchange of dialogue became a little staggered, both Adam Hetherington and Michael Mack were quickly swept up in the emotional weight of the script and any indication that they were actors simply presenting the dialogue was quickly dismissed. The portrayal of ‘Jon’ by Hetherington and ‘Vince’ by Mack as former school friends was incredibly believable, their history together only seeming more and more genuine as the evening progressed and the topics of discussion intensified. By halfway through the show the intensity of the atmosphere had reached its peak, in which the arrival of Hester Van Der Vyver as ‘Amy’ only served to sharpen the performance and increase the stakes of the play significantly. Van Der Vyver in particular shines with the material she’s given, single handedly being responsible for dictating and controlling the tone of the piece as it progresses, which she manipulates to great effect.
Within the first ten minutes of “TAPE”, I had a very clear idea what type of review this was going to be… which in retrospect is quite ironic given how unpredictable the narrative actually is. The boldness, intimacy and sincerity of the piece is something you become aware of quite instantly. The fact that this is the theatre company’s first production simply sweetens the entire deal. Their ability to embody such ambition and sophistication from the offset is something incredibly impressive.
“TAPE” is a show that leaves you in the midst of uncertainty; not only questioning the morality and motivations of each its characters, but also regarding how you yourself would react in the same situation. One thing that I can say with explicit certainty, however, is that there will not be a future production staged by this ambitious new theatre company where you will not see me in attendance.
Play Dead Theatre’s season of “TAPE” closes tonight in Melbourne. You can find out more about the company and details of future productions on their website: http://playdead.com.au