Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Theatre: The Irresistible (★★★★½)

Side Pony Productions and The Last Great Hunt
Written and directed by Zoe Pepper
Written and performed by Adriane Daff and Tim Watts
Composer Ash Gibson Greig
Set and costume designer Jonathon Oxlade
Lighting designer Richard Vabre
Sound designer Phil Dowling
Until June 24

The Irresistible is as singular and wholly realised a theatre experience as has been mounted in Perth, and the apogee – so far at least ­– of the intention, and work, of the writer and director Zoe Pepper, working with Tim Watts and Adriane Daff of the busy and multi-faceted company, The Last Great Hunt.

Its achievement rests on the rigour of Pepper’s creative processes and the knockout technical effects integral to it. That work ­– by the composer Ash Gibson Greig, physical designer Jonathon Oxlade, lighting designer Richard Vabre, sound designer Phil Downing and the amazing gadgeteer Anthony “Gizmo” Watts ­– is unified, complete and often purposefully disorienting.

Into the ferment of sight and sound they have created venture the performers Watts and Daff, who co-wrote with Pepper. The characters they inhabit, and the stories they tell, ricochet around age, gender and relationships with dizzying pace and a kind of narrative violence.
The vocal distortions created by Ableton Live software (the same as used in Complicite's startling The Encounter at this year's PIAF) and controlled by the performers allow them to play over a dozen distinct characters. 

Watts is as intelligent and precise as always, and Daff is ferocious, scouring her characters raw. She is highly-charged, sometimes vicious, and gives the stand-out performance of the Perth stage this year thus far.

I listened in to foyer conversations after the show, and was amazed (and a little chastened) to hear audience members discussing the characters and their activities as if this was a conventional story and they were conventionally presented characters. I simply have no idea how they untangled it.

If that sounds like a criticism of the play, it’s far from it. Sure, there’s always room in new work to hone narrative clarity and character definition, and maybe The Irresistible will be more finely chiselled as it is played, but, in truth, that’s neither here nor there.

It’s the psychology of these characters – of all of us really – that matters to Pepper, Watts and Daff; how we position ourselves, how we see the world and judge the people in it, and how wrong, how dangerous, we can be.

There’s an example playing out right now, in the real-world case of the girl texting her boyfriend to go back into his exhaust fume-laden car. In The Irresistible a similar moment plays out; a polar opposite, in some ways, but not so different in others.

This is theatre with great strength of purpose, and a technical achievement that will leave you gobsmacked.

The Irresistible is simply irresistible. You shouldn’t try to.             

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