15 Minutes from Anywhere, production of Cuckoo, led us down to the far recesses of our psyche into the basement of fortyfivedownstairs. The comedic drama, starts in a lounge
room, in a typical suburban home and a evening chat between an apparently normal couple. Their jovial conversation is interrupted as a stranger knocks at their door. Is it their missing son? A funny night terror style of story unfolds.
Jane Miller’s writing explores the fragmented minds of her characters after a tragedy. We’re challenged to decipher truth, reality and the human capacity for denial. She attempts to lure us into their world through a sequence of real time and flashback scenes, in a confined domestic situation. Alice Bishop directs the characters around a small space with poignant props. The lighting and set successfully construct the intangible plot.
Alice Bishop shows us Miller’s stereotypes from the get go. Leo, a plumber, plays like a boy with his Lego on the rug. Mel represents a figure of maturity sitting on the sofa, working on her laptop. Miller has written light quips quizzing each other about getting a pet and going on a holiday. We’re privy to their established long term, dysfunctional relationship.
Mathew Maloney portrays a likeable Leo, though his performance comes across as a little forced until the first flashback scene. Does he have second night nerves or does Miller and Bishop want us to feel that these characters intimacy is forced?
Mel played by Natalie Carr, embraces her role. She establishes her separateness in her partnership with Leo’s, only averting her eyes from her screen to ask him how to spell a word or two. The characters speak very self centred dialogue and repetitive phrases. Mel’s repeats such words as “no”. We’re given insight into the way they attempt to communicate in their relationship.
Bishop utilises Miller’s flashback sequence to suggest their infant son may have a disability or disorder. Carr’s anguish is very convincing in her solitary monologue.
Miller’s story telling comprises of the bright side and the darkness in their lives, with the use of impeccable lighting. In the first flashback scene and from there on, the lights are dimmed to blackout. The actors then perform monologues under solitary spotlights. Shadows cast from their figures on the wall behind them, help form a physical presence of their dark shadowy past.
More blackout flashbacks, play out the couples life. We learn about Jonno as a child in their family unit. Lights fade to black leaving us on the verge of sadness thus begins the spiral of waiting for the next flashback scene, to tell the story. I found this process to be predictable and labouring. Perhaps more content in the dialogue in the present scenes, might have livened up the storyline.
J or Jonno as we come to know him, almost forcefully enters their home looking for help after being knocked off his bicycle, by a wayward driver. Samuel Russo plays a confused and hungry nineteen year old, or is he a con man? Samuel Russo delivered a plausible performance with the dialogue he had to work with. All the characters had self centred dialogue and ignored each other regularly. This is an agitating and hard to interpret series of actions her characters take. The writer notes this is one of her her desired responses.
Bishop’s direction proceeds with the conception of Jonno being their son. She has him moving and talking sporadically around the lounge room, much like a younger boy. He mentions the size of the TV and asks if they have Foxtel. He helps himself to sit and play
with Leo’s Lego. He coerces Mel to make him some toast and she responds as a nurturing mother would. Mel’s actions help demonstrate the state of denial her mind has entered.
A flashback alludes to their son going missing as a young boy, perhaps as a result of his disability. We just begin to teeter on their sadness and it fades to black again. Lights on, Mel shows familiar maternal signs towards Jonno and Leo is hesitant. This builds
necessary tension and empathy at the same time, in the viewer.
I found the dual nature of Jonno’s character to be sometimes ineffective. Jonno appeared to be too refined and articulate even as an imposter. He drives Mel and himself in her car to the zoo for the day. Post their trip, he refers to Mel as his Ma Ma and can speak fluent French. This infuriates Leo and starts to cause a wedge between Leo and Mel. Again, I’m assuming it’s the Miller – Bishop team attempting to assimilate a notion of deception under a cloak of confusion.
I’m grateful Bishop directed the use of specific props for continuity. The set placed in a diagonal position towards the audience, directed the present scenes adequately and relieved my eyes of yet another flashback.
Bishop draws attention to the bicycle helmet Leo buys for his long lost son. The mere fact Leo guesses the right size based on his own head, generates curiosity or a possible genetic link. Once introduced, this silly prop worn continually by Jonno, actually assists in the consistency of his character.
Leo talk of his violin in the opening scene. We don’t actually see a violin. We sense Leo’s frustration when he suggests taking up lessons and is mostly ignored by Mel. In a latter scene, we finally see his violin which he’s had re- strung in anticipation of lessons. It’s a
useful prop hinting at the stage their relationship is in.
In the final scenes, the illusive violin resurfaces again, to be literally toyed with by Jonno. This is not a flashback and Leo is not present. Mel’s renewed motherhood completes Miller’s delusion.
David Kambouris plays the character of uncle Dan. He delivers his comic relief role with great timing of Miller’s dry sense of humour. I particularly enjoyed his blackout flashbacks where he tries to remember an Italian poem and recites it in an awkward accent. I looked forward to those blackouts. His incessant pistachio nut eating, story telling and juvenile jaunts with his nephew are perfect.
The ingredients for a mysterious and unusual story is all there. The actors did struggle at times with dialogue and the nature of the words, not the delivery. The dialogue could have been written with more intention. Overall an entertaining piece with provoking undertones