Fringe Talk Day Twelve

Crackers - Tuesday 12th September 

I get to Newtown early, so there’s time for Manoosh. I get my usual; zatar wrap, Beirut style. If you’re not on that tip, get on it. It’s the best.

My parents live around the corner so I drop in to say hi. We talk about native floristry, family genealogy and my Dad tries to extol to me the virtues of sherry, and how one must always keep a bottle of chilled dry white sherry in the fridge at all times, one simply must.

I think it’s a little early for me to make sherry a ‘thing’ in my life, but I thank him for his fatherly wisdom. I love my old man, and would like to stay and talk longer, but it’s time to get off to a show about bipolar disorder, so – off I go.

I get to the Old 505 Theatre and there is some confusion at the door. Either there’s a person with my first name and James’ last name, or they’ve just rolled our names into one. I let it slide and decide to go by the name Max Dalton for the night. It’s got a ring to it.

I order a beer and get situated, admiring the way that the black box theatre built within the venue’s heritage ballroom narrowly avoids scraping the high pressed tin ceilings. I sit in an armchair taking in the crowd. It’s pretty mixed; oldies, locals, young actors. The standard independent theatre crowd.

The lights go dark.

Then they come up and three women run around looking stressed. I know the look well. It's the look of, “Why the fuck is this happening now at show time when it wasn't happening an hour ago when we tested the lights”.

They're handling it with relative grace though - I’m not even sure that anyone else notices, I'm just sitting next to the stage door. They flip the fuse and run off in three different directions. I call that progress.

The stage manager returns and blurts out a charmingly awkward speech apologising and inviting us into the theatre. I think. I decide to hedge my bets and go in to nab a good seat.

The show starts and we get to meet our cast of characters. There’s Alex a well-meaning but ineffectual counsellor played by Alec McDonald who’s out of his depth for Jesus Christ, biuw waw (that’s a guitar solo noise, it has like accompanying hand actions… look it’s his catch phrase OK, it’s hard to explain it with words). Alex is a parody of those self-important ‘helpers’ whose idea of mental health services is a pamphlet, and he’s got one for everything.

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Tom Matthews plays Sam, aka Snake, a poet with a past. A past of mental illness that is. Zing! Sam is a chronic liar with crippling social isolation anxiety who serves the script by bridging the gaps between the other micro dramas that play out over this one hour show with his impromptu poetry slams. Side note: Tom Matthews does an incredible impression of bad slam poetry voice. Literal tears in my eyes from laughter (plus some flashbacks from my poetry reading days).

There’s McKenzie, a wild girl archetype who’s gone off her meds who thinks she might actually be the Messiah, played by Madeline Osborn. She’s got a thing for the tall, dark and volatile Jonah (Sam Marques) and the two negotiate love in the time of manic depressive episodes.

Jessica is played by Jessica Murphy and it’s a testament to her performance how hard it is to like this character, who puts up some pretty gnarly defences (read attacks everyone) to hide the fact that she really just wants a functional relationship. Her character raises some tricky questions around bipolar disorder, namely how many of her problems are the result of her disease and what is just the result of the work she needs to do on becoming a better person. It’s a delicate issue handled well.

The show is really just 4 sets of character expositions that develop across the hour and ends in a cake fight. It was a short and sweet nugget of indie theatre. It's a little messy, but then mental health is. Georgina Adamson’s script is measured and well crafted. It’s a black comedy that speaks from personal experience and that definitely comes through. Eve Beck directs a solid ensemble and the show hums along in a chaotic kind of way. The tension is well realised and it corresponds to the subject matter well; at times the show felt like a full blown panic attack. 

All in all, it was a thoughtful show full of guts. Not preachy, not obnoxiously self-referential or self-indulgent. An evening at the theatre well spent. I duck out of the theatre and hop across the intersection at the Barmuda Triangle, and disappear down the stairs of Newtown station. Max Dalton out.

Join us here tomorrow for Rebecca's exploration of the immersive Undertaking

Written by Max Rapley