107 Railway Parade, Erskineville
Season: 7 - 30 May (Tuesday-Saturday 7pm)
Shivered will mesmerise you from beginning to end, as you watch, transfixed by the curious personalities on stage, with a pounding heart. Mad March Hare Theatre Company presents this production at the PACT Theatre, forcing you to question the dichotomy between the external self and suppressed internal desires and the imagined world, confronting violence, love and fear. I can’t begin to attempt to capture the entirety of the play’s non-chronological complexities in a neat little synopsis. Perhaps art imitates life in this sense, unnerving the audience when a neat metanarrative framework is abolished, refusing to simplify human experience to a tidy beginning, middle and end. Regardless, the work is set in a fictional industrial town, Draylingstowe, and incorporates the building and fragmentation of familial and friend relationships. With exquisite direction by Claudia Barrie, a laudable cast and Philip Ridley’s gripping play, this is a production that should be elevated to the forefront of Sydney’s theatre scene.
The cast features an ensemble of interlinked characters, whose connections become clearer as the story flits between time frames to fill in the whole picture. Liam Nunan’s performance as schoolboy Jack was truly captivating. His character’s journey throughout the play required acute attention to detail, especially in regards to his physicality and his portrayal was alarmingly realistic. He managed to depict an individual who was so polarising, at some points worthy of pity, often likeable and humorous, and at other points displaying attitudes and behaviours so abhorrent that you almost felt guilty for liking the very same character moments ago. Yet again, in the ousting of stereotypes and stock characters the work comes immensely close to reality. Not one of the characters is good, not one is blameless. And they are more human for it – which is terrifying. We see humans on stage who embody a spectrum of colours throughout their lives and throughout mere moments, constantly being affected and changed by their experiences.
The kaleidoscopic light embodied in the characters is supported by Benjamin Brockman’s production design. Brockman’s lighting design was also impressive in New Theatre’s When the Rain Stops Falling and Rock Surfer’s Animal/People this year, and while he applies a more simplified concept in Shivered, his design is nonetheless crucial in shifting the atmosphere of the scenes. Reinforced by his set design, the total whiteness washes over everything from the ceiling to backpacks and debris, absorbing the light, so that the scene is entirely coloured by a spectrum of colour throughout the work. I suppose the artistic meaning of this production element is open for personal interpretation within the integrity of the piece.
Contributing to the suspense of the piece, Barrie’s deft direction allows the audience to witness a tender moment between two characters, notably between Jack and Ryan. Just as the audience slides into complacency, the tone is subverted and a shocking act is performed, producing an exhilarating work. Ryan, played by Josh Anderson, regularly ventured into the imaginary realm, meanwhile suffering from the physical restrictions of extreme short-sightedness and deformed fingers. Meekly attempting to share the imagined with his brother Alec, played by Joseph Del Re, Alec’s gritty experiences as a soldier cause him to brutally shut down any fanciful solace. Anderson’s humility and quiet demeanour on stage successfully made some of his more drastic outbursts more shocking. Both actors performed skilfully, sensational in their capricious brotherly interaction, partly attributed to Alec’s PTSD, and remarkable as individuals on stage.
Gordy, portrayed by Andrew Johnston, is a fascinating character. The audience learns some of his past and yet there is still so much of this persona shrouded from our vision. Yet Johnston fleshes him out so believably and with great vigour, that the audience forgets his enigmatic nature on stage. Evie, Jack’s mother, acted by Rhonda Doyle, fused comedy ubiquitously into her scenes on stage, in spite of the gravity of circumstances that surround her. She responds with a disquieting nonchalance when Jack is hurt, which she later reveals is a guard she puts up to suppress her fear. Evidently, Shivered has no shortage of provocative characterisations.
Shivered is a scintillating production that should be at the top of your priority list in the Sydney theatre scene. Satiated by incredibly talented actors and creative crew, Barrie’s direction hits the mark and evokes profound thought and emotion. There is so much artistic truth in this work that cannot be conveyed in written form, you must see it for yourself.