Warning this review may contains spoilers.
It was a cold and blustery night in Melbourne, starkly juxtaposed by the incredibly warm welcome received upon entering Long Play by writer of Amnesia, Clancy Fraser. She was abuzz with excitement and pride of Short Straw’s inaugural production and was clearly happy with the result of the opening performance that had wound up moments before, and rightly so.
Tucked away at the back of Long Play is quite a quaint and intimate little theatre space, which as the play progresses added to the confronting nature of the content. The set was rather impressive for the space that they had, a convincing kitchen and dining area complete with fridge, benches, side table and piano. Whoever designed and brought the set to life did it cleverly, as it didn’t feel cluttered at any point but still provided a tight working space for the actors which added to the tension and suspense.
Amnesia follows the story of Lucy (played by Jeni Bezuidenhout) and Aaron (played by Palmer Marchese). After meeting at a nearby bar, Lucy invites Aaron back to her apartment for coffee (or was it “coffee”?), however the play essentially starts further into the night with a knife wielding Lucy standing over the unconscious and bloody Aaron. When he wakes, the confusion and loss of memory burdens him as she accuses him of trying to attack her and later, of being a serial killer.
Marchese underplayed his role beautifully. For the first half of the play, you couldn’t help but feel like he is the innocent victim of a lunatic. His charm and calmness throughout the first half up until the reveal was very engaging. Unfortunately, this can’t be said for Bezuidenhout, who over-played, or more so, over-acted her role. Bezuidenhout tended to act an emotion rather than feel one and it made her performance unconvincing and often grating, coupled with a couple of times where she broke character completely. Ultimately, it was this over the top performance that ruined the twist that Aaron is in fact the crazy one as I found it obvious that it was the only way the script could go. I couldn’t help but feel that if Bezuidenhout had have matched Marchese’s underplayed performance, the suspense would have been greater as we wouldn’t have known which way the twist would fall and whether she was a nut or he in fact was a serial killer.
There was a severe lag in the middle of the show and it was hard to work out if the actors were forgetting their lines or if the script was repetitive and the cues weren’t picked up. It felt like there was a period of about ten minutes where the actors were just improvising and it killed the natural flow of the story. This lag happened a couple of times throughout the show, however it was clear that waiting for the phone battery to get some charge into it at the end of the show, must have been a directional choice by director Hannah Smallman (the irony that Aaron’s surname of Littleman that is referenced when Lucy finds him carrying a condom and the director being Smallman was slightly amusing). Did we really need to be naturalistic in the phone charging and booting up at the expense of the flow or could they have taken a little more creative license? It was these choices and moments that made the one hour show feel a little longer.
The lighting was impressive considering the venue and I thought the added lamp on the set was a clever way to light the stage a little more. The costumes were fine for Marchese, however the incessant rearranging of Bezuidenhout’s dress was distracting and probably needed to be something a little more comfortable. Normally, in a show that didn’t use sound, I wouldn’t give a rating as it would be non-applicable, however I have rated it as I think it could have enhanced the story. Some music playing between scene one and the main show would have been nice, although the complete cut of the first scene would probably be a more interesting choice; to start the show with Lucy standing over a bloody Aaron would be a more powerful start. Also, I think some eerie music during the show, or even one of these two playing something creepy on the piano would add to the fear factor.
Despite the few criticism’s explored in this review, Amnesia is a show the cast and crew should absolutely be proud of. It is a few minor tweaks from going from a good show to a great show and there is no reason that as the season progresses it won’t just get better and better. If this is what Short Straw are going to deliver on their debut show, they are a theatre company that need to be supported and one that I will be keeping my eye out for. Amnesia is on twice a night for the next two weekends and well worth a look.