Sunday, 28 May 2017

Crush - Theatre Review

What: Crush
When: 22 May - 2 June 2017
Where: The Owl and Cat Theatre
Written by: Rob Young
Directed by: Isobel Sommers
Performed by: Mardi Edge, Seb Muirhead, and Fiona Scarlett
Sound by: MBRYO

Seb Muirhead and Mardi Edge
Crush is the last show in The Owl and Cat Theatre's 'Storm In Cup' season. A fast paced comic drama, the choice is strong after a season of serious dramas and traumatic topics which, whilst important conversations for us to have, has at times been gruelling emotionally.

As enjoyable as Crush is, it is a surprising inclusion to The Owl and Cat program given they pride themselves in only producing world premier plays. I say this because whilst it is true this script has been adapted for Melbourne (Young resides in the UK), the play originally debuted in 2011 in Finsborough. It will be interesting to see if this is a change of direction for The Owl and Cat or just an aberation in their usual programming paradigm.

It is a bit unfortunate for first time director Sommers that this show has been performed previously because it adds to the pressure of living up to whatever commentary came with the original production. In this case, reviews of the original production speak of a a fast paced comedy with a good dose of prop humour and physical hijinks.

Crush is a very wordy play and written in a narrative soliloquy style and because of the length of the monologues it really does beg for physical movement to bring out the comedy and dilute the cynicism. Sommers' Crush is very static, with the actors spending most of the first half of the play sitting behind desks typing away. It is a very filmic interpretation for a script which would lend itself to being a movie, but good film does not make good theatre.

The premise is a simple and effective one. An unsuccessful newspaper with a small staff creates a hothouse environment just ripe for a love triangle. Celia (Edge) is the editor who is having an affair with a character we never see but does have a presence on stage. Johnny (Muirhead) has an unrequited crush on her. Celia knows this and toys with him like a cat and a ball of string.

One day the receptionist disappears and a temp takes her place. Laura (Scarlett) is a stereotypical bombshell and Scarlett milks her entrance for all it's worth. As soon as she comes on stage she stamps the show with her presence just as Laura stamps the office - nobody will ever be the same again.

There is so much potential for off-script interactions and byplay - especially between the women - but the staging just doesn't give them a chance. The set is quite breathtaking as you enter the theatre, but the stage space is completely taken up by three desks and the cast struggle to come forward and truly connect with the audience because the desks form a barrier they just can't free themselves from.

It also made the playing space safe for the actors. The comfort of desks and modesty screens meant they are never at risk until the very end. Safety, comfort and relaxation really took the edge off Muirhead's performance although Edge and Scarlett stay fully invested.

Scarlett is breathtaking and consumate performer understanding how to use her body and her space to perfection where she can. Edge also maintains the tension and intention of her role throughout the whole performance.

The true genius of this production - and the element which keeps us connected to the comic elements - is the sound design by MBRYO. The comedy just leaps every time the sound is triggered and sets the mood perfectly. Yes, there is cliche, but comedy only works with cliche and that is the brilliance of the choices.

This production of Crush is slick and pacy and a great debut for Sommers as a director. Comedy is one of the most difficult forms though and there is still a lot she has yet to learn. This production is a really fantastic starting point even if it is not the laugh-a-minute it could be. Crush is a fun night out with an ending to rival The Crying Game or The Sixth Sense. No spoilers from me!

3 stars

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