By Ash Cottrell

I’m the type of person that has been known to host murder parties for a smorgasbord of less than enthusiastic friends. I also guiltily find time every year to rewatch the 1985 film Clue, based on a board-game of the same name, where six ‘strangers’ (all with secrets that will bury them) gather for a dinner party, only to find themselves at the scene of a great many crimes.

Understandably, when I read the logline of Eyes Wide Woke, which alludes to a mysterious dinner party, bringing together old friends and a guest of dishonour, I was intrigued, to say the least. On brand with my narrative proclivities, this show suited me perfectly and suffice to say, I enjoyed it enormously.

Eyes Wide Woke is part of Midsumma, always a vibrant festival on Melbourne’s social and cultural calendar, celebrating diversity and difference. The Courthouse in North Melbourne hosted this little show, upstairs from the bar in what could only be assumed was a private function room, turned theatre space. It was intimate and the excellent blocking allowed for the audience to bare witness to a great many moments that, had it not been ‘theatre in the round’, would have been missed.

In short, I loved it. I thought it was fun, in parts very well written and appropriately zeitgeist. At best, the writing was irreverent, funny and in many cases, scarily relatable. At worst, there was a frequency of expositional dialogue and predictable plot twists, rendering the performances overwrought.

Having said that, the actors were by and large great and the complex characters were portrayed with obvious capability by Ashleigh Coleman, Ashley Tardy, Joshua White, Luke Jacka and Emma Drysdale. I particularly enjoyed the little moments found by the two Iead characters, Valerie (Ashleigh Coleman) and Noah (Luke Jacka) who had generated an impressive on-stage sexual chemistry.

I am hesitant to criticise the decisions made in the production design and lighting departments as it would ignore the fact that the production was clearly limited by resources and the space in which they performed. I would love to see what this team could do with more money and more time, elevating the visual platform of the show and ironing out the little things here and there that took you out of the moment.

Thematically, Eyes Wide Woke adequately engaged with the intersection of privilege and hypocrisy and the desire to be seen to be doing good, rather than to actually be good. In the current climate, the writing begged a great many questions of the audience and played with knee-jerk fads gaining traction, guilty pleasures (such as listening to Michael Jackson post the horrors of Finding Neverland) and the sanctimony of gentrification. The characters were loveably flawed and you could see that they were just like us, trying to navigate their way through a culturally confusing time.

In spite of the engaging thematic explorations, the absence of a clearly defined protagonist meant that the narrative journey for the audience suffered. Essentially though, the elements that weren’t working for this play were predominantly budgetary and thus I have forgiven them here.

Eyes Wide Woke was great fun and a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to this year’s Midsumma festival. 

Direction: 4, Performances: 4