Wednesday, November 12, 2014
WA Youth Theatre Company has launched a new year-long training program called The Ensemble Company which allows a group of young performers to train under the guidance of a professional director, developing a new work to be showcased at the end of the year. This year’s Ensemble has been led by Jeffrey Jay Fowler, theatre all-rounder and Associate Director of Black Swan State Theatre Company. This year’s resulting new work is called Fish Out Of Water (Drop Dead), and it’s on now at MosArts in Mosman Park.
Fowler’s penchant for creating surreal, futuristic parallel worlds that are uncomfortably close to our own is again skillfully implemented in Fish Out of Water. Across his works in the last year, Fowler demonstrates his knack for creating tension in seemingly mundane conversation; his dialogue absolutely seethes with passive-aggression and his characters try hard to make maintaining a facade look effortless. It isn’t effortless and therein lies the tension; it’s there between characters, it’s there in the setting, it’s there in the premise. People are often under threat from an external danger, be it environmental or societal, that makes their tight-knit internal dramas look absurdly futile.
Fish Out of Water is set in a community where people’s entire lives are micro-managed by “the council” and even a pool party needs to be inspected for safety by an officer. A brother and sister argue over which young woman he will choose to invite to the party, a decision not to be taken lightly as it’s a symbolic gesture that has greater meaning in the community’s and council’s eyes. Somehow a choice is made and the brother’s “option” joins the party, only to be coldly received and humiliated by the brother. But everything is under control, because the council has a way to make it all safe and pleasant again.
Led by two strong performances from Isabelle McDonald as Mauve, the party host, and David Mitchell as Baby Blue, Mauve’s brother, this young ensemble cast get behind the material and tell this unusual story with clarity. Their performances are tidily rendered with hardly a hair, or a gesture, or an emphasized word out of place. Mitchell rages quietly behind dagger-filled looks, and McDonald bullishly keeps the social ball rolling, doing whatever it takes to make sure the party is a success. The two council officers, Elise Wilson and Sofie O’Mara, play good cop/bad cop as they rigorously and ruthlessly train a hopeful young newcomer, Benjamin Constantin, for inclusion in the community. Catherine Bonny is Mauve’s anxious best friend who can’t seem to think for herself and an expression of worried detachment never leaves her face.
The design is economical and considered; the action takes place inside a “sunken” stage that visually refers to both an empty pool and a fashion runway, and the cast are all in sleek bathing attire, the women strutting in chunky heels. Joe Lui has put together an excellent, ominous soundtrack of beats that underpin the action, and has also implemented his lighting design in a fairly tricky space that I gather hasn’t been used in this way before. The crew have disassembled the proscenium stage and reconfigured it into a thrust-cum-catwalk that floats in the middle of the cavernous little MosArts theatre.
\Eventually the domestic drama opens out into something more universal, raising questions about what lengths we will go to to maintain the illusion of an orderly, pleasant society.