Thursday 7 February 2019

Q - Theatre Review

What: Q
When: 6 - 10 February 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written and directed by: Aleksandr Corke
Performed by: Alanah Allen, Aislinn Murray, Ashleigh Gray, Caitlin Duff, Edan Goodall, Max Paton, Reilly Holt, and Wil King
Design by: Nathan Burmeister
Lighting by: Georgie Wolfe
Sound by: Justin Gardam
Aislinn Murray, Max Paton, Alanah Allen, Ashleigh Gray and Edan Goodall
For those who like their drama supernatural with more than a hint of the afterlife, Q is the play for you. Resembling the love child of The Good Place and No Exit, Q will keep you pondering long after the (metaphorical) curtain goes down each night at La Mama Courthouse this week.

Q is a drama in two acts (but no interval) which asks the deceptively simple question 'If life has no purpose and death has no purpose, which is better?' Some of us may think this is not a question we have to ponder but Corke makes the case that regardless of religion - or lack thereof - we all end up in the same place.

You might say (as I did to myself) "I don't believe in any religion. I believe there is no afterlife. I believe when we die it is the end." Corke's proposition, though, is that no belief is correct. If he is right, then the idea that death is where it stops is as faulty as any belief in gods or karma or veganism... It really is enough to make you think again, and as - in my opinion - that is one of the most important things theatre can make you do, I think this play is great.

The first act is about the death of Mr K. (King). He wakes up and is greeted in an antechamber by two bureaucrats (Holt and Gray), who are experiencing something a little unusual. K's file outlining the details of his life won't open and they can't find a key. An inspector (Allen) is brought in and realises the problem is K has been 'seized' too early.

K is given the choice to deal with long lines and unbearable administration to return to his life or, seeings he is already there, just sign a waiver and head off into whatever he believes his afterlife was always intended to be. K chooses to stay, signs all the forms put in front of him and heads off for the good times he always imagined heaven would be.

Begin act 2. K has been told there is just a bit more assessing to be done and then he can head off into the good rewards of a life well-lived so he finds himself in a waiting room with a bunch of other guests clutching their files and sitting in eager anticipation. (Everyone in the play is double cast except King). Well, almost everyone has their file. One very unresponsive and gloomy individual, Peter (Goodall), doesn't seem to have one which is a very curious thing.

One by one we hear their stories of how they ended up there and this is perhaps a section of the play which could easily be edited down a bit. It is great to get to know everyone in the scene and their stories are good, but not all of them move the action along and the stage gets very cluttered. Corke has directed all the bodies in the space well, but it is a bit too much like a game of musical chairs where someone keeps forgetting to turn off the music.

It is Goodall's amazing performance in this scene which keeps it alive and holds the tension. Peter doesn't speak at all and barely moves and, as such, is incredibly powerful. In a way, it is a shame Corke blinks and late in the scene has him move because suddenly he becomes a part of the group and therefore less powerful.

This is important because I suspect the real core of this play is about suicide. When Peter does finally talk, he interogates K about his last moments only to discover K gave up his life voluntarily. This infuriates Peter, who (I think) committed suicide himself when 'The world snaps to black.'

What Corke seems to be saying is if there is no purpose in life, and no purpose in death why not choose to live? Why give your life away? At first this may seem glib, but if you give in to his idea of the afterlife he is making a really good point. Trust me, if Corke's imaginings are true I have finally found a reason to try and live forever!

Q is dense and dark, but oddly humorous and a real thinker! The cast are a great ensemble and Gray, Allen and Goodall really stand out in the crowd. Everyone is good though. The only mild disappointment was Simeon's (Holt) death tale which was perhaps a little too dark and outside the emotional grasp of someone as young as Holt is.

Q is one of the best produced plays I have seen in a long time. Burmeister's set was fabulous with simple solutions which create strong evocations of a shadowy/cloudy world somewhere just outside of understanding. He and Wolfe have worked together well, with the lighting almost pulsing through the translucent set.

The smoke is probably redundant and not well used. Remember that once smoke is in the room it doesn't go away. In this case Wolfe used it for some memory sequences and this began to muddy up the exactitude of the antechamber in the first act.

Gardam's sound design was absolute perfection. His elongated and warped music set the emotional tone of the piece from the very beginning, and from start to finish he never lets the audience off the hook. Gardam's scape had the intriguing property of making the moments of silence incredibly stuffed with meaning and tension.

It really was a joy to see Q. Q is a Monash University student alum production and I constantly find the Monash graduates have an incredibly sophisticated grasp of theatre making beyond most courses in Melbourne at the moment. Whilst everyone else is training their students to go out and make their own ground breaking work, Monash is teaching their students how to make great nuts and bolts theatre as well as developing original ideas. The Monash production dramaturgy is pretty unmatched at the moment.

4.5 Stars

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