As I experienced the truly mesmerizing performance of Stuck Pigs Squealing’s Night Maybe by Kit Brookman, a beautiful dream-like, yet funny journey into the hazy and disturbed world of post-adolescent minds, I was reminded of a poem written by a good friend of mine:
The sandcastle stands triumphant,
A fragile symbol of her imagination.
“I want to play with it!”
Comes the cry from the boy.
Making fists of his hands,
He destroys the magic,
Ruling over wasteland.*
I was late, and ran from St Kilda junction arriving at the theatre just in time. I had an inkling this was going to be a special night after viewing the online video clip. In it characters appear out of the dark, merge, diverge and disappear: simple, eerie and elegant.
Stepping into TheatreWorks’ murky auditorium, I was struck by what appeared to be a wall of light piercing through swirling clouds and creating a virtual barrier between the audience and the open stage. This was the beginning of what is possibly one of the most effective uses of lighting and sound in a small theatre I have ever seen.
Tom and Sasha (Tom Conroy and Sarah Ogden) are brother and sister who have run away. They stop on the grass as the sun goes down and bicker about what to do next. Do they go back, or go further? They are lost, but it becomes clear if they return to the awful tedium of their suburban home they will disappear forever.
Tom and Sasha might be young adults, but they fight like children and act-out typical brother-sister childish squabbles. Tom leaves Sasha to find the river and out of the darkened haze new characters, real or not, mysteriously appear including Sally, a sexy vamp in a sequined dress and Finn (Marcus McKenzie), Tom’s supposed boyfriend. Later a creepy man (Brian Lipson), who seems to be a stalker, slides into view. It turns out he is just a friendly ghost giving Sasha the very odd hug plus anodyne advice, no more a sex-fiend predator than Hamlet’s poor dead dad.
Part of the core narrative of this play is the immediate tension/attraction/repulsion between these siblings, but other themes emerge: is Sasha a victim of cyber-bullying or is she a vengeful firebug with destruction on her mind? Is Tom really her brother, or a composite including her mother the pretty girls who bullied her? Are we watching a dream turned nightmare, or are these the last thoughts of a suicide, whose mind is slowly fading under ice?
As the play progressed, I became engrossed and began asking myself how could this mystery be resolved? Would it, like so much “experimental theatre” career into cliché and easy plot devices? My antenna for piss-takes and bullshit theatre is highly sensitised ever since I was once actually pissed on by a performer in a dismal production in London. I’ve seen a lot of ham theatre that over-reaches and make a rule, when I can, to avoid sitting in the front row.
The fact Night Maybe didn’t over-reach, and kept me absolutely riveted with unexpected twists and turns, until the final moments was a genuine surprise. Even more astonishing was how well written and funny the script is, with dozens of moments of laugh-out-loud humor, balanced with other moments where I felt as moved as the actors.
Part parody, comedy, tragedy and art work, the brilliant thing about tonight, despite there being no recognizable resolution, was that Night Maybe kept me and the audience in a kind of hypnotic trance from beginning until the very end.
Conroy and Ogden carry the play with excellent performances. I particularly loved Mr Conroy’s Sally character, a sexy vamp-like schoolgirl with more attitude than Chris Lilley’s Jamae from Summer Heights High. Ogden’s Sasha, full of teenage angst and spotty awkwardness, was the highlight of the evening, and it will be a long time before I forget her literally moving monologue in the incredible final scene, with its (unconscious?) nods to Salvador Dali, Sigmund Freud and David Lynch’s Eraserhead.
Much praise must go to lighting designer Richard Vabre and sound designer James Brown. They have somehow created a magical and ethereal space that works masterly in step with the text and action, transforming the stage, at times, into a giant glittering snow globe. This is art installation that could stand on its own cool beauty and meaning.
Brookman and director Luke Mullins have made something special here, and this fascinating new play, which received crowdfunding from Pozible, is part of TheatreWorks 2013 “selected works” series. Stuck Pigs are a group of artists exploring ongoing themes and preoccupations, such as, according to the program “the mythic structures that lie beneath the surface of domestic and suburban reality”. Their goal is to expand their practice and to “take risks”. That is certainly what they did here tonight. It worked beautifully.
*Testosterone Poisoning by Reinhard Beissbarth,1993
The details: Night Maybe plays TheatreWorks until September 1. Tickets on the company website.