Saturday 26 August 2017

Amnesia - Theatre Review

What: Amnesia
When: 18 - 27 August 2017
Where: LongPlay
Written by: Clancy Fraser
Directed by: Hannah Smallman
Performed by: Jeni Bezuidenhout and Palmer Marchese

Jeni Bezuidenhout and Palmer Marchese
Amnesia is a new play written by Clancy Fraser and being performed at LongPlay. It is produced by Short Straw which is Fraser's creative partnership with director Hannah Smallman.

The play has been billed as a black comedy and it is definitely morosely funny in parts, but with a few tweaks Amnesia could be an exciting and clever psychological thriller. The story begins with Lucy (Bezuidenhout) finding herself in a kitchen with a dead body (Marchese). What unfolds is a finely crafted, table turning exploration of events which led to this moment and constantly asks the questions what will happen next?

The play is strong and clever and the performers, whilst still learning their craft, give strong and detailed performances. My one tip for them it to remember to look up and not down so the audience can see inside your mind and travel the journey with you.

What lets the show down in a big way is the direction. This play is tightly wrought with status and power always on a knife edge - literally. Lucy's weapon of choice is a carving knife. A knife is a close combat weapon and yet Smallman has allowed the actors to constantly be on opposite sides of the stage.

The whole premise underlying Amnesia is both characters have reasons to not leave despite feeling in mortal danger, but in Smallman's production either of them could walk out at any time. I did think the big, round table dominating the most powerful space on stage was some sort of mechanism which would allow the animalistic prowling and circling of predators but nothing this interesting was allowed to occur.

I often say that good writing will survive whatever directors do to it in performance and Fraser is a good writer. Despite Smallman's attempts to the contrary, it is easy to follow what Fraser has created and I would love to see this play in the hands of a director who knows stage craft.

Marchese and - especially - Bezuidenhout also do a great job of processing the shifts and changes their characters undergo and it is through them the audience get the final pay off. It is really exciting to see this kind of new writing coming to our stages and I look forward to seeing more of Fraser's work.

2.5 Stars


  1. One could be mistaken for thinking there's a hidden agenda here? Take it with a pinch of salt as in my opinion, the direction was flawless as well as the standard of acting and writing. I admit..
    I do have a bias.However dont take my word for...just ask those who packed out the venue for their opinions. Theirs would outweigh the meaningless and irrelevant criticism of (in my very humble opinion) a sole and (out of touch) 'critic.' Her's the come the actors were so good? Answer? Incisive and effective direction. End of....

    1. Hi Chance, I am not sure where you think the hidden agenda might be. I just respond to shows as I see them as do all reviewers. My commentary on the direction is clearly outlined in my review. I think you may offend quite a few actors if you are saying their skills and abilities are the result of directors. Also, if you go there, can we then say all bad acting is the fault of the director as well? There might be a few directors who would not like that either. I clearly state my objection to the direction is the stage craft - i.e. use of space and spatial interaction between the characters. If that does not fall into the realm of direction whose fault is it? Thanks for your comment. I enjoyed hearing your opinion :)

  2. Hi Samsara

    Thank you for your prompt reply.
    I do understand the role of a critic as I also appreciate that 'Art' is a matter of individual taste. One's opinions therefore, can only ever be subjective. You state that you think there would be a few directors who might not like my comments. I would also think that there may be one or two who might not like the views you have expressed. If I were Miss Smallman, I would not so much take a dislike to those views, but I wonder if she might be more than irked by the tone in which they were offered.

    I attended two performances. Both seemed to have been enjoyed by the people who count - paying members of the public.

    Appreciating the hard work, energy and and passion which has obviously gone into producing this work, I
    would refer Miss Smallman to a piece of advice once offered by Andy Warhol who said; ' Do not pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.' Well done to Clancy AND Hannah at Short Straw.

    I too would like to thank for your comments, which I READ and enjoyed. Kind Regards.

    Chance :)

    1. Hi Chance, thanks for this response. It would be naive for me to assume I can write a negative comment and not upset people. In fact, if I didn't want to upset people I wouldn't review at all because what good is a critic who just says everything is wonderful when it obviously isn't.

      I am glad you enjoyed the show. I did too. I feel that with 20 years of international theatre making experience and a Masters degree I have enough of a basis to be able to dissect what is pleasing to me and what is not working and identify the various elements.

      I clearly said I think the script is wonderful and the actors are good. I did, however, spend the whole time after the first five minutes wondering why one or both of the characters didn't just walk out and thereby end the scenario. This is where the direction comes in.

      Smallman did not give us any reason to think or believe either of them could not leave at any time. The script had to explain everything. It becomes evident in the script but if theatre is just about hearing the words we would all just produce staged readings.

      I hope Smallman learns from this production and goes on to do great things but she has not done so in this instance. As I mentioned in the review, she was the weak link in this team. Perhaps that suggests she needs training or needs to work under more directors. However she chooses to develop those skills is her choice.

      My job as a reviewer is to give audiences and producers some idea of how their work is being perceived - specifically how I perceived it. My opinions are informed and evidence based, but by no means universal.

      I really am glad you enjoyed the show enough to see it twice. :)


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