Directed by Marshall Napier
Red Line Productions
Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre, Woolloomooloo
Season: 10 March – 11 April, 2015
Photo credited to Sahlan Hayes, featuring Marshall Napier, Ben O'Toole and Anna Bamford.
Freak Winds is currently staged at the Old Fitz Theatre, written, directed and starring Marshall Napier. He enlists Anna Bamford (Wonderland) and Ben O'Toole to perform alongside him. Considering each actor's prominent television background, I was a little surprised to find them performing in the quaint Old Fitz and yet was eager to see what each would bring to the table. Unfortunately I was underwhelmed. Freak Winds commences with Henry, an Insurance Agent, paying a visit to an old misanthrope, Ernest. Enveloped by ‘freak winds’ in a wild storm, Henry becomes trapped in Ernest’s home and develops a dubious distrust for Ernest as more is revealed about his persona. As Ernest’s companion, Myra, enters the mix, the plot thickens and Henry is bewildered by the circumstances he finds himself in.
There was initial good rapport between the characters, particularly between Ernest and Henry. This rapport was cleverly turned on its head to create uncertainty, each character appearing to be unsure of the other's motives as Ernest’s volatile nature is revealed. I found this relationship engaging, however some repetitive dialogue tended to drag at points in the first act. Myra, played by Bamford, contributed to the mystery of the plot with an enigmatic personal history. Her relationship with Ernest was intriguing, and whilst some of her actions and motives were explained throughout the play, many aspects of the character seemed to be mysterious for the sake of mystery, rather than having a tangible point. The second act increased intrigue and moved at a faster pace, yet ultimately left me dissatisfied in the end.
The play is a thriller – its ‘thrills’ are orchestrated through mystery and the dark undertones that become more pertinent as the piece progresses. At first I couldn’t understand why I didn’t warm to the play, as it seemed to have strong foundations that should overall lead to a successful piece. In hindsight, I think the piece lacked clarity, affixing various creepy and perverted ideas together in the hope of making a strong collective impact. It left me confused why I had spent a few hours watching the events develop when it concluded as I generally could have first anticipated (not that I wish to spoil the ending).
The set design constituted of mouldy wallpaper and dated furniture, and exactly fit how I would envisage Ernest’s house to be. Clever use of sound was employed to set the scene, as well as onstage lighting through the windows, indicating the storm outside. As a side note, Napier is to be commended in his rapid adaption in the performance, after breaking his leg in recent weeks. His mobility in no way hindered his performance, ensuring “the show must go on!” Clever script adjustments allowed Napier to avoid using the staircase across the back of the stage. Costume decisions were suitable, aiding the believability of each character.
Whilst the play was by no means my favourite, it did draw me in and capture my curiosity at points. In a relatively desensitised society, a play seeking to incite thrills has its work cut out. Freak Winds did not tick all the right boxes, but it attempted a genre that many may avoid on stage, and this was a welcome change for an audience, indeed.