Friday, September 24, 2010

Theatre: Jack & Jill

Written and directed by Jessica Craig-Piper Lawrence Ashford, Zoe Cooper, Laura Jayne Henderson and Keir Wilkins
 The Blue Room Theatre
eptember 7-25, 2010

Jillian is struggling.
For her, there’s a lot going
down, but not much going on. She’s got housemates called Bear and Roadkill, a call-in, call-out job as an artists' model and a lifestyle that’s getting to be more about what you take than what you do. There's a bed in the lounge room, because even though all three of them have one of their own, they're often too wasted to get to it.
The bottles are empty, the ashtrays are full, the lines are drawn, no-one ever feels good in the morning, and Roadkill’s eponymous art project is furring up all the sinks.
 But there’s more to Jillian than this, and the sudden death of a father she never sees, and the consequent arrival in her life of Christopher, the half-brother she has never known, drives this taut, sexy, domestic thriller by Jessica Craig-Piper. There’s a lot to like about Craig-Piper’s control of the action, both as writer and director, and the plot has a muscular momentum that keeps you looking forward to its next twist.
 Bear and Roadkill (her mum and dad know her as Florence) are putative artists scrabbling for the killer concept piece that will win them a precious commission and exhibition space. When Christopher arrives from his country town for his dad’s funeral, they seize on him as a modern Eliza Doolittle, hoping that by changing the country bumpkin Chris into hip, urban “Jack”, and recording the metamorphosis, they’ll win the elusive patronage they seek. Jillian is an unwitting accomplice to their scheme, encouraging Chris to stay, at first because she thinks he needs a taste of city life, later because she starts to need something real in
hers. And, inevitably, Jack and Jill tumble down the hill and into each other.
 All the performers are terrific. Lawrence Ashford, as Bear, and Zoe Cooper, as Florence aka Roadkill, both convince in roles that are essentially caricatures – Furies in a small room – bringing just enough control to stop them spinning off into farce. Keir Wilkins’s Chris/Jack manages to work between his two, conflicting identities with aplomb, and it’s easy to see what attracts the others to him. But it’s Jillian’s show, and Laura Jayne Henderson brings real star quality to a part that places some tough demands on an actor. If Henderson can’t deliver on Jillian, the show falls apart. Happily, there’s not then slightest chance of that happening with a performer of her allure and quality.
 I’ve got some qualms; the story could have had a threat of danger and violence that Craig-Piper doesn’t opt for, choosing instead a climax that needed much more development to shock as it is intended to. But there’s plenty here to work with: I’d be unsurprised and happy to see Jack & Jill re-appear, re-worked and refined, on a larger stage, and I’ve no doubt we’ll be seeing Wilkins, Cooper, Ashford and, especially, Henderson, again. 

Another view: Varnya Bromilow's review in The West.         

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