When: 13 - 22 June 2019
Where: Gasworks Theatre
Written and directed by: Martin Quinn
Performed by: Frazer Lee and Katherine Pearson
Set by: Alaina Bodley
Costumes by: Constance Lewis
Lighting by: Adelaide Harney
Sound by: Edwin Cheah
Stage management by: Stephanie Ghajar
Two On The Night Train has been written and directed by Quinn and in the program notes he credits Beckett as his muse and predecessor. I disagree. To me this play feels much more beholden to Satre and his seminal work No Exit. Whilst I can acknowledge traces of Vladimir and Estragon I think the despair and horror of being endlessly trapped is much closer to a Satre lineage - although perhaps the sentiment is oppositional. Satre believed we can act without reference to our past whereas Quinn seems to be saying memory is vital to the act of moving forward.
It is not true to say the characters (Lee and Pearson) do not have names - it is just that they can't remember them. They also can't remember where the train is going, where it came from or why they are there. The only thing they know is they are there (although they do have a tendency to forget about the other one until they run into each other) and there seems to be nobody else on the train. "Does anyone know where this train is going?"
As you have probably caught on by now, Two On The Night Train is not a comic romp. Instead it is a philosophical metaphore addressing the 'question of being' for this current generation. As interesting as this sounds - particularly if juxtaposed by such existential searching of artists of previous generations, this play searches, but gives the audience very little to relate to or contextualise with which makes it rather unsatisfying. "Does anyone know where the train is going?"
The text is repetitive and circular and Bodley (set) and Harney (lights) have created a striking set which traps the characters in an endless row of train carriages (well over 600 at one point - although the facts were disputed), all looking and feeling the same. Plastic nib walls with puckers become shattered glass or cobwebs depending on the lighting. Existential closeness becomes philosophical distance. The coldness only relieved by the presence of two human bodies. "Does anyone know where this train is going?"
Because the text and the blocking is so repetive Harney and Cheah (sound) take on the burden of keeping the play moving forward with an ominous sound scape and constantly shifting lights - which is fortunate because whilst Quinn indulges in philosophical discussion he fails, for the most part, to include any dramatic action. In the end nothing really happens, there is no change. This is probably his meta-statement about the millennial conundrum but as a piece of theatre I did stop caring about either the idea or the characters. "Does anyone know where this train is going?"
In this empty space of not knowing, the only thing the characters have to hold onto is each other but they spend little time looking at each other (partly the fault of the set and partly direction) and although they reach a peak of frustration I feel with more humanity and panic Two On The Night Train could reach the heights of real horror. "Does anyone know where this train is going?"
It may be if Quinn gave this to another director, they could find this humanity. I feel Quinn is caught up too much in the intellectuals of his story to open it up to the rest of us more fully. This also comes across in the stiltedness of the dialogue. Pearson manages to break the character down to a creature of emotion but Lee never really manages to get past the diction and therefore is left portraying something closer to an automaton than a human being in existential crisis. "Does anyone know where this train is going?"
In the end, the answer to this question is no. Nobody, inside or outside the train, knows where this play is going. People say life is about the journey, not the destination. Perhaps this is true but it implies things will happen on the journey to make it worthwhile. With no memory and no sense of forward (except to try and find the driver) Two On The Night Train never really goes anywhere despite traveling endlessing along train tracks. "Does anyone know where this train is going?"
The ideas behind Two On A Night Train, according to the program notes, are strong and intriguing but Quinn needs to reveal more about humans rather than ideas for it to be a really successful stage play. Something has to happen.
Two On The Night Train is visually quite stunning though, and Cheah's sound track evokes strong emotions. It is also nice to see a playwright adding a philosophical edge to his work. We don't do that enough these days I think. It is rather nice to have the audience be considered as thinking beings rather than cattle who just want a good laugh.