Full Throttle Theatre’s annual Three Courses in: premiered last night and this year audiences are being treated to three short plays by celebrated British playwright Caryl Churchill. Having written more than 40 plays for radio, television and stage between 1958 and 2016, Churchill is one of the most prolific contemporary playwrights and her innovative techniques serve to comment on major political and social issues.
Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen
Directed by Linley Cerqui
Set in a futuristic London where over-population and heavy air-pollution reign, Mick (Colin Livesey) and Vivian (Julie Johnston) sit in the small room Mick lives in, awaiting the arrival of his wealthy son, Claude (Damien Moston). Mick hopes Claude will share his fortune with them, so they might escape to the country for a better life.
Director Linley Cerqui and the three actors have done a terrific job creating this suffocating world and quickly drawing the audience in. I felt claustrophobic just watching this story unfold and on the several occasions Vivian opened the window to view the smoggy street below, I found myself genuinely wishing she wouldn’t.
All three performances were sensational – Colin brought beautiful vocal strength to his performance and showed a wonderful knack for dry, understated wit that gave Mick’s character powerful contrast: nostalgic hope and forlorn resignation to his fate. Similarly, Julie’s gasping, out-of-breath and buoyantly optimistic Vivian was completely endearing, making it all the more difficult to watch her face crumble in heartbreak at the realisation that they might not ever make it out of ‘The Londons’. Julie’s line recall is also deserving of a mention – Churchill had written heavy repetition into Vivian’s lines (I suspect to illustrate the difficulty of breathing in the smoggy air, though it wasn’t performed this way), and Julie never missed a beat, despite there being no apparent trigger or pattern to the repetition. Lastly, Damien was captivating – I’ve said in other reviews that the mark of a compelling actor is often is what they do when they’re not speaking, and I felt my eyes being consistently drawn to Damien as he bubbled away in silent, frightening fury and frustration at the state of the world on which he’s given up. I did find Damien’s long wig obstructed the terrific facial expressions he was giving at times, but that is my only gripe.
I also especially enjoyed the ambient street noises that played under the entire performance. They added an additional layer of realism that can only be described as genius simplicity.
The Judge’s Wife
Directed by Shelley Keehn
I’m still not sure where I sit with this one.
The Judge’s Wife introduces the audience to the Judge (Mark Jeffery) as he passes down a harsh sentence to a young revolutionary, Vernon Warren (Zach Byrne). The decision is wildly unpopular and ultimately leads to Vernon’s brother Michael (also Zach Byrne) murdering the Judge (Don’t curse me! The story is framed in a flash forward to this moment, so I haven’t spoiled anything!).
I liked Shelley’s decision to splice multi-media content throughout this performance. News reports showing the global spread of revolutionary protests was an effective way to demonstrate the enormity of conflict the Judge was up against and justify why his decision was so controversial. However, the sole focus on international hacktivist group Anonymous just didn’t sit well with me personally. Partly because I think this attempt to contemporise the play made the story more time-bound than time-less, partly because the end came off a little like a recruitment drive and partly because it was just all too V for Vendetta for my liking (Churchill had written The Judge’s Wife a decade before the first V for Vendetta graphic novel was published, and to so heavily embed symbols that rose after Churchill’s work in her work seems to warp it a little more than I’m comfortable with).
However, once again, the performances were sensational. Mark Jeffrey was authoritative and convincingly unlikeable as the Judge and the disdain between his resolutely loyal wife, Caroline (Jacinta Ryan) and her sister, Barbara (Christine Scott) was palpable. The Irish servant, Peg (Lucy Gounaris), stood for the common, down-trodden man and Lucy portrayed her with impact and humour. I couldn’t take my eyes of Zach or Marguerite Wesselinoff (who played Warren and Michael’s mother) – neither of them had many lines, but their silence was golden and Marguerite’s pain as a mother who’d lost a son brought a tear to my eye. Strong performances all ‘round.
There’s a wonderful revelation at this end of this play, which did leave me thinking, sometimes the only way out is through!
Directed by Sonia Zabala
To borrow a line from the Director’s Notes (which was in turn borrowed from her actors): “That’s some crazy shit”.
Heart’s Desire opens on a married couple, Brian (Jeremy Naughton) and Alice (Kath Hotschilt); and Alice’s sister Maisy (Helen Burbidge), as they sit around waiting for their daughter Suzy (Enya Flett) to return from Australia. Within seconds the play ‘resets’ to it’s opening line with Alice throwing a table cloth over the table and Brian entering the room; and that goes on and on and on. There’s 23 resets (if I counted correctly)*, with each retake taking us slightly further through this story in a slightly different way or in a slightly (or not so slightly) different direction. Mundane. Fast-forwarded. As a soap opera. Ending in a home invasion. Exploring cannibalism. The first word of every line. The last word of every line. It’s high-energy, it’s ridiculous and it’s wildly entertaining.
The three actors at the heart of this short play have shown tremendous versatility. There were retakes when I felt sure Kath and Jeremy would kill each other, and others that had me almost blushing at their public displays of affection. Kath was formidable, sweet and motherly as required and Jeremy’s unique brand of physical comedy was given the time in the spotlight it deserves. Even without saying anything for a good three minutes, he had all eyes on him. Helen was delightful. With Maisy’s character not changing so much from reset to reset, she provided a great strand of consistency, keeping pace with the crazy of the other two. As Brian and Alice’s children (and other surprising characters), Damien Moston and Enya Flett made several short appearances, and did it with gusto. For all five, keeping track of the when and the how of each scene would have been a huge undertaking – I did spot a few quick little conferences between actors during the resets which I can only image begin with “Which one next?”, but each retake flowed flawlessly otherwise.
While Director Sonia Zabala’s intent was to explore how the mundane can be influenced by other factors, what I really loved about this play was the way it highlighted the versatility of our language and actions (the two concepts are probably closely linked, but I’m just a big ol’ word-nerd). It’s a brilliantly written play, performed incredibly well.
Full Throttle’s Three Courses in: Caryl Churchill is a thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking night at the theatre, that arm audiences with plenty of fodder for animated discussions about issues facing man-kind.
Catch Three Courses in: Caryl Churchill at Full Throttle Theatre (The Courthouse Theatre) until Saturday, 11 August 2018. Click here for tickets.
*I did not count correctly. It was 27!