Take A Seat covers many themes including feminism, sexism, racism, alcoholism, broken families, religion, homosexuality, dementia, anorexia, bulimia, depression, suicide, self-harm, boat people, war, cheating, drug abuse, PTSD, objectifying women and that is just the first act! Throw in cancer, ALS, theft, mental disorder, morality and many more and you have yourselves a script that has more issues than Time magazine. It gets to a point where you are just waiting for the next one to be thrown up and glossed over leaving more loose ends than an episode of Lost.
The writer, Kieran Gould-Dowen, has also taken on the role of director and producer, which may have proven to be a detriment to the show. Rarely does it work for the writer to be so heavily involved because it then does not allow them to sit back and see the show from a distance and try to pare back the script and the themes that just aren’t needed. All of the themes mentioned above are sensitive and meaningful issues but trying to cram them all into a two-and-a-half-hour show means nothing feels like it is resolved even though it is clearly the aim as the story progresses and the characters start to leave the waiting room.
Take a Seat invites the audience into purgatory, if you will, represented by a waiting room. The show follows the characters who are stuck in this room as they try come to terms with their deaths and await their fate. Are they going to heaven or hell? The show begins in the foyer of the loft where Jophiel (Hannah Vanderheide) welcomes us and sends her condolences that we are now dead. It was a fun and quirky start and I leant over to the person I was with and said ‘I like this already.’ As Jophiel sets up the idea that we are all dead and in limbo together, it would have allowed there to be an audience plant or two that were dragged into the action on stage, making us feel like we really were a part of it, but unfortunately as with many of the ideas this one wasn’t followed through. Perhaps it’s an idea for the development of the script to keep up the sense that the audience are in the same waiting room.
Upon entering the theatre, some of the characters are already on stage in the waiting room decked out with many white chairs, coffee table complete with out-of-date magazines, a chess set, lamp, outline of Australia taped on the floor and bookcase filled with relevant books (my eye caught Wicked and Ghostman, I assume the rest were also related to the script and a detail that this reviewer loved). On top of the bookcase was a radio which was playing some sort of Heaven Radio. Like with the books, the music playing on the radio were things like Another One Bites The Dust and That’s Life, yet another appreciated detail. The idea of the radio meant that the show could transition straight into the acts smoothly and quickly. This was all very well done. All the characters carried a clipboard with pen and paper that they could decide to either write a letter to a loved one, or not write a letter and ‘plead their case.’ At the risk of repeating myself, this idea also wasn’t followed through and we never really found out what happened if someone chose to plead or write.
Like with the themes, there are far too many characters in this show. This means, not only is there often awkward blocking in order to clear space for other characters, but we don’t have time to get to know them or care for them which in the end leaves us with the feeling that we don’t really care what happens to them. There are a few exceptions though. Carmelina Di Guglielmo as Maggie does a beautiful job, playing the bible bashing do-gooder who quietly sits in judgement. Her comic timing is spot on and had the audience chuckling away. Emily Scerri as the bubbly and often sparrow-like Ashley is a joy to watch and annoys the other characters perfectly. I would love to see some more depth written into this character. Vanderheide also had great comic timing with Jophiel and her constant comings and goings were always fun to watch.
The stand out performance for mine was Kotryna Gesait as Sophia. Her characterisation was stunning and just had you wanting more. Her reveals throughout the show of her life were always heart felt and interesting and her journey throughout the piece was fantastic to watch. Her final moments on stage (despite the kiss that Stevie Wonder could see coming) were so subtle and beautiful that it was a shame to see her ‘cross over’ because it meant we wouldn’t see her again in the show. A truly fantastic job.
Many of the other characters aren’t given the opportunity for us to like them and when we don’t like them, we don’t care for them, and when we don’t care for them we lose interest. There were four or five of these characters that did the best they could with what they had and I can appreciate the work put into them. Joey (Alexander Gavioli) and David (Aaron James Campbell) have the potential to be fantastic characters with a great arch but because there is just too much going on they get lost in the crowd.
The play feels long, despite its many laughs and nice moments, it also has many flat scenes and pauses that you could drive trucks through. These scenes were mainly involving Scott, played by Adrian Quintarelli. I felt there was no music to his dialogue and quite often monotonous. I never felt like he connected with the emotion that was needed for this character and paired with son Harvey played by Ryan Stewart-Schmidt I never felt the heart-wrenching story that they were trying to portray.
Unfortunately, Take a Seat makes mention of many issues but rarely explores any of them, simply because there are far too many. Coupled with there being too many characters, I can’t help but feel that Gould-Dowen should cut half of the characters and three-quarters of the themes so that there is more of a focus rather than a glazed over version. Perhaps it would even be worth splitting the characters and themes up and writing a trilogy. I think the idea is good, the characters are good and the themes are worthwhile but it needs some focus. I have to review based on what I saw, but if I could review on the potential of the script it would be a more positive one. I urge Gould-Dowen to consider pulling back on all his ideas and just find his best ones and flesh those out because this could be a very clever, exciting and thoughtful piece of theatre.