The Last Great Hunt’s current production Improvement Club, written and directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler, is a slick, well-choreographed piece. Performed in Rehearsal Room 1 at the State Theatre Centre, it is encouraging to see other performance venues being created and utilised.
The minimal set contains symmetrically placed contoured flats that are functional and unobtrusive. The only other set piece is a rectangular rostrum that mostly serves the main character, Adam, in different locations. More importantly, it provides a platform for Adam to distinguish himself from the group.
The play opens with Adam (a white, heterosexual male) declaring that he wants to start a club, the ‘Improvement Club’, and he makes various attempts to recruit others. The ‘others’ are from marginalised groups of different ethnicity, gender and sexual identity. Adam, played by Chris Isaacs, and three other characters, Blake (Mararo Wangai), Dylan (Frieda Lee), and Cameron (Gita Bezard) work together and are dressed exactly the same way, discernible only by a different coloured tie.
Fowler deftly uses the device of repetition to explore Adam’s attempts to start the club and when eventually the ‘other’ characters agree to join, each repetition describes the varying operations of the club. The club appears to be productive and inclusive until Adam decides to assert his position as founder of the club. Adam’s need to distinguish himself as the leader exposes his true intention and destroys any semblance of equality. As the recruitment and operations motif is repeated we see it morph into different manifestations of the ‘club’ and, finally, Adam appears to embrace diversity and relinquish control. Though ultimately, Adam succumbs to, what seems to be, an innate desire to be ‘top dog’. Adam’s ensuing tirade is the climax of the play. He exposes his sense of entitlement, and at the same time, the desperation of finding his place in society when the supposed traditional ways of domination and oppression have been replaced by equality and diversity.
For the most part, Improvement Club successfully manages to make expressionism accessible and coherent. The play explores some mature and pertinent themes, however, some unsophisticated flourishes fell flat on the mostly ‘over 30’ audience.
Isaacs delivers a very good performance, highlighting the contradictions in his character with the emotional and physical intensity it requires. Equally, Lee’s performance was strong throughout. Bezard and Wangai had moments of uncertainty at the beginning, however, those moments quickly passed and both delivered impressive performances. In particular, Wangai’s command in the lion scene was menacing and mesmerising. Arielle Gray’s appearances as Adam’s mother/therapist/girlfriend was confusing. It was difficult to know which of these characters Gray was portraying as they seemed to morph into one another with only subtle dialogue prompts. It did occur to me that perhaps this was the point, though, I’m not sure if this served Adam’s character development or helped Gray’s portrayal of these characters. Having said that, Gray has enormous prowess and there is no doubting her appearances hit the mark that the writing/direction permitted.
Fowler is successfully broadening his playwriting skills. It is not easy to create a play that doesn’t rely on naturalism to communicate and he is certainly proving to be an inventive and visionary theatre maker. Joe Lui’s sound design is ingenious! It skilfully supplies the atmosphere, dictates the pace and enhances the vision of the play.
I look forward to future ‘The Last Great Hunt’ productions as they continue to create prescient and imaginative theatre that confronts the challenges of the twenty-first century. The transition of the white, heterosexual male into today’s culturally diverse societies is manifesting in scary and shocking ways as the rise of neo-Nazi groups increase around the world. Improvement Club offers some insight into this transition.
Only 5 shows left: Tuesday to Saturday – Bookings
Photo Credits: Daniel James Grant