Monday 18 September 2023

TURN, TURN, TURN: Theatre Review

WHAT: Turn, Turn, Turn
WHEN: 13 - 23 September 2023
WHERE: Theatre Works (Explosives Factory)
DIRECTED BY: Renee Palmer
SET BY: Tom Brayshaw
LIGHTING BY: Gabriel Bethune
SOUND BY: Patrick Slee
PERFORMED BY: Melanie Audrey, Sarah Hartnell, Sodi Murphy-Shrives, and Eben Rotjer
COSTUMES BY: Adele Cattenazzi

Sodie Murphy-Shrives, Sarah Hartnell, Melanie Audrey, and Eben Rotjer - photo supplied

I love science fiction. I live it. I breath it, I would eat it if I could. I REALLY love how science fiction is making a permanent and entrenched place in live theatre. The latest entrant in that genre is Turn, Turn, Turn which is being presented at the Explosives Factory this month.

Written by Keith Gow, the premise for Turn, Turn, Turn is a future in which humanity keeps moving from planet to planet as they use up the resources on each one they colonise. In this play the characters are abandoning Earth 7 and are in a race to get to Earth 8. Earth 8 is different though because they are not colonising a pre-existing planet. This one has been terraformed for them.

Much like the land grabs in the pioneering days of the USA, if you get to the next planet first you get the best bits of land and greater privilege in the new community. Along the way the play has surprisingly little to say about the environment, a bit to say about tradition, and a whole lot to say about privilege.

Riffing off ideas such as those found in The Hunger Games, Hon (Melanie Audrey) and Tee (Sodi Murphy-Shrives) have been selected from birth to have the right to emigrate as long as they win the race to the spaceships. They have been given lifelong advantages and a thing called 'Juice' which makes them think better and heal more quickly. The play starts with these two racing to the ships but Hon has broken her ankle. Her lover, Tee insists on helping her sneak onto a ship despite her injury. We find out later in the play why. Instantly we are introduced to the theme of rule breaking.

The ship takes off and we meet Navigator Naz (Sarah Hartnell) and their partner, Engineer Elk (Eben Rotjer). The ship is a junky old freighter with no chance of winning the race to Earth 8, or so Hon and Tee think. This ship has illegal temporal drives though, so they all have to choose whether to use them and risk getting caught and kicked off the new planet and returned to Earth 7. This is the core of the play. It all centres around an ethical battle between jockeying for a position of privilege or respecting community standards - which in this play are sneered at as 'tradition'...? Personally I think tradition is not the same thing.

I find Turn, Turn, Turn a confusing play and I feel like maybe Gow doesn't actually understand what he has written. He speaks to wanting to address privilege and tradition but what I walked away with was the ideas that cheaters win and we should feel sorry for people with privilege because they do it tough too. I suspect that was not meant to be the intention but Turn, Turn, Turn is a world which is definitely leagues away from the Roddenberry universe.

Turn, Turn, Turn is a tough play to stage because it is, for the most part, set in the claustrophobic space of a ship made for 4 people. Brayshaw (set designer) has done some good work on the set but in the end I think he created too much space. Renee Palmer (director) moves the cast around skillfully but it would be much more visually dynamic if the cast had to keep climbing over each other and dancing around each other. It also would have helped sell the stakes of how desperate they are to get back planetside.

Gabriel Bethune's lighting does the job but I did not understand the constant haze. In a spaceship you should only see smoke when something is broken and then you get scared. If I was on a ship constantly smoking like this one I would run straight to the airlock. I am probably going to die anyway. More importantly though, having it there all the time dilutes the moments of specific terror when things actually go wrong. Luckily, Patrick Slee's sound design is full of energy and dynamics which keeps us believing in the uncertainty of the journey the four miscreants are all undertaking.

The cast are skilled and intriguing. In particular, I really loved Naz (Sarah Hartnell) and Elk (Eben Rotjer), and I think I am supposed to. My one tip for the caste would be to focus on keeping your cores activated. It is natural to relax when you sit down - and there is a lot of sitting in this play! When the core relaxes the voice relaxes too, and then we all relax. Nobody should be relaxed in Turn, Turn, Turn, especially not the audience.

I can see the play Turn, Turn, Turn wants to be but I don't think it is there yet. People say good science fiction is just people stories in space suits. I disagree. You have to get the science right or there is no world for us to believe in. I guess from the publicity I wanted more information about climate crises, colonisation, and the carelessness of moving from world to world rather than changing behaviours to save the world the people are already living on. This play assumes there are a lot places for us to go. There isn't.

I personally don't have much time for people of privilege crying 'poor me' and I certainly don't like it when privilege gets their happily ever after because they cheated. Turn, Turn, Turn is fun but I really struggle with the subtext. I always enjoy a fun trip into outer space though, and that is as good a reason as any to see this play.

3 Stars

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