Thursday, August 21, 2014

Theatre: Concussion

By Ross Mueller
Ellander Productions
Directed by Sarah McKellar
Designed by Iona McAuley
Performed by Richard Mellick, Nichola Renton, Ian Bolgia, Paul Grabovac, Russya Connor and Danen Engelenberg

Much of the ambitious Australia/UK multi-arts company Ellander Productions’ theatrical output since they launched in 2010 has been decidedly underwhelming.
Concussion (at the Blue Room, directed by Sarah McKellar), though, is much more like it.
They’ve been wise to secure Ross Mueller’s nasty, opportunity-laden play, winner of the 2009 New York New Dramatists award. His story of a cop, Caesar (Richard Mellick), recovering from a savage beating and struggling to remember what happened before, during and after it, could be straightforward enough, but Mueller sets its narrative adrift in time and peoples it with some decidedly unsavoury types. While the result is often gobsmackingly obscene and morally bankrupt, work through all that and there’s quite a bit of wicked fun to be had and something to be said about the human condition in a world hotwired to the net and drowning in pornography.
That wisdom extends to the creative team they’ve assembled; the promising McKellar (mentored, I notice, by the experienced and adventurous Emily McLean) keeps the volatile script on a tight leash, and draws out some fine performances from the cast.
Mellick is particularly good as Caesar. The play depends on how convincingly he conveys having had the crap beaten out of him, and he had me wincing every time he tried to move any part of his battered body. Nichola Renton is expressive as Caesar’s doctor and lover, burdened with a litigious ex husband, played with gleeful vengefulness by Ian Bolgia.
Things are tougher for Daren Engelenberg as Caesar’s unpleasant son Sergio, who is mainly responsible for the aforementioned obscenity, often entirely self-generated and, at other times, in concert with his older lover, and Caesar’s minder, Katerina.
I struggled a bit with Russya Connor, who brought spadefuls of Germanic sexiness to Katerina but was awkward in much of her dialogue. So, strangely, was Paul Grabovac, a high quality, idiosyncratic actor who, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, seemed miscast as Bolgia’s much-put-upon elder twin.
That aside, Concussion is a step up for Ellander and an entertaining kick-start for the Blue Room’s 2014 Season Two.

This review appeared in The West Australian 20.8.14

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