Colder, by Lachlan Philpott, is a play that coaxes us into accepting how joyless life can get at times. A play that centres around the experience of loss and grief is going to do this quite easily. The ‘not knowing’ aspect of loss, the facing up to the fact that there may be no answers, is the main theme of the text and this is carefully and, for the most part, beautifully conveyed.
It is an emotional intense piece of theatre that has little narrative progression but focuses on the projection of emotion through non-realistic theatrical devices. It is a brave piece that presents the anguish of loss, a mother/son dynamic and the need for intimacy in our lives. Everything in the play gravitates around David, (Charles Purcell), his life and his tenuous relationships, both sexual and platonic. Purcell is supremely confident in his role, capturing David’s struggles with his identity and his disappointment with the lack of intimacy in his life.
The ‘strands’ of narrative are revealed and unravelled slowly during this ninety-minute piece. We are first presented with two spectators in the crowd at Anaheim Disneyland who tell us how David, when aged 4, went missing for several hours from his mother, Robyn at age 33 (Marissa Bennett), causing great distress. He is eventually reunited with Robyn but something changed that day in both of them. We then fast forward to Robyn at aged 59 (Caroline Lee) dealing with her now grown-up David (Purcell), now aged 33. Into the mix we have David’s adult friend Kay (Brigid Gallacher), his lover Ed (Ben Pfieffer). Components and aspects of David’s life and his story cross time and the audience is carried from the present to the past and back again repeatedly throughout the piece.
It is a strong quality of the script that there is not a release valve; there is not a point where the audience is given a resolution to the dilemma presented. We are stuck in the world of the characters that, in their different ways, are suffering and grieving the loss of David. The gamut of reasons why such suffering occurs, how acute and how hopeful of the suffering ending, is an excellent study into this area of our human condition.
Alyson Campbell’s enthusiasm for the demands of Philpott’s play is evident. Her direction firmly rooted in the theatrical style of non-realism where the play is not driven solely by a linear narrative where we await a climactic moment and then a denouement. Nor does her direction attempt to convey easily identifiable psychological inner states of her characters’ lives. Philpott’s script supplies us with bite sized scenes of dialogue that lay foundations of who a character might be but then it is left for the audience to interpret and to feel rather than think.
And it is this feeling which is the most appealing aspect of this play. The desire by Philpott and Campbell to ‘affect’ the audience is successfully orchestrated in and it is for this alone that the play is worth seeing. The audience has to put a bit of work into to accept the staging and look of the play and accept the repetitive nature of the dialogue but the pay off in the end is allowing oneself to be taken into this world of David.
It is Philpott’s use of words that ultimately achieves this poetic envelopment of the audience. Much like laying music soundtrack, the lines in the play are constructed, layered, squeezed and repeated. The ‘units of words’ as I would like to call them, are carefully arranged in order to engender David’s world on stage. It always sounds clichéd, but the writing here is poetic in the sense that it uses the many traditional literary devices with great effect.
The lighting is soft and dreamlike, again taking its cues from Philpott’s words that waft around the theatrical space. The actors’ profiles are lit beautifully at times. Because we are shunted rapidly from place to place, past to present, it is the lighting that serves the play so well, giving us enough definition to establish the new settings.
Red Stitch again shows it is not afraid to be bold and program a play within its season that could never be described as conventional!