Marooned review by Virginia Proud
Sometimes writing a review is especially tough. Not because I have any difficulty with a play addressing suicide – my own life has been touched by suicide, twice, so far. But because for me it directly raises the question, as a critic, do we look unflinchingly at the quality of the theatre. Or must we, inevitably, be respectful of its genesis in the tragic loss of a man’s life, the impeccable intentions of its creator and cast, and the good that it has the potential to do. Ideally, we want theatre to achieve both things – be a terrific show, as well as have something important to say – but this is a lot more difficult than it sounds.
Inevitably, the reaction to material such as this, will resonate according to one’s personal views on taking your own life. For some suicide is unquestionably wrong, and life is worth any struggle. For others it is not so black and white and must be contextualised. The legislative arrival of choice regarding end of life decisions for example, must, I think, be applauded. You may not agree. Reflecting on my own experience, as this play demands, one death was totally unexpected, leaving impossible questions. The other was the culmination of a long struggle with anxiety and depression, leaving sadness, but also acceptance. However, it is quite clear that Marooned has a point of view and it is this. Do not do it, you will regret it.
Once you are dead however, regrets are beside the point, so Marooned’s writer and director Michael Grey Griffith has conceived a purgatory between life and death for those who have botched it. The attempt has been made, but they are not dead (yet). It is a clever idea and fertile ground upon which to sow the seeds of hope.
The four marooned, bear only numbers for identification and are unable to recollect their names and certain precise details of their lives, but remember almost all else. On arrival, they are ‘registered’ in a not entirely clear process by an unnamed higher power. They understand little of their environment and are left to themselves to figure out how to move on. Ultimately it is through telling each other their stories, they find some purpose and a new determination to go on with life.
Before we get there though, Griffiths takes us on a over long and meandering ride that ultimately sidesteps a substantial or nuanced examination of his characters’ motives or backstory. The uncovering of each person’s story leans into the facts, rather than exploring the complex emotional journey leading to the attempt. And despite these people having all reached the end of their own rope, each seemed ready judge the others as having done wrong. It felt to me, that in a commitment to the play’s message, the door had been closed on any empathy with its characters. Thus, the idea that emerged from all this discussion was that ‘trying harder’ is the solution and frustratingly, tasked one character with the futility of changing his father’s mind.
There are also a few alarming unresolved issues primarily to do with world building. Following the logic of assigning numbers, what has happened to all the others, have they come and gone? Why then don’t these remaining have more understanding of their situation? But my biggest question, what is this higher power in charge of registration? Have these people just discovered that (appropriate deity) really exists? That would be worth at least a sideways glance in the narrative, I’d have thought.
Marooned had its genesis in an earlier play, Sidelined, that featured four male characters. Interviewed in the Sydney Morning Herald about his intentions with that earlier work, Griffiths described wanting to explore the importance of open and emotional communication between men at risk. I wonder whether in broadening his scope beyond the male conversation, despite an engaging performance by Rohana Hayes as 768, some essential focus has been lost.
But all this said, there are many strong moments within the piece and the actors did some wonderful work with the material. Together they tease out the details of how it must have gone wrong, and where they might be now. Lying in a paddock? On a ledge? Christopher Jay (378), delivered a compelling performance, that provided critical moments of humour, in an otherwise bleak affair. And Greg Caine’s (1620) final scene was an emotional punch.
In the final analysis, the creator’s stated intentions are to create a suicide prevention play and this he has done. It is a piece of theatre that has had impact, it has found an audience and a purpose. This performance commenced with a moving introductory speech about the value of asking clearly, without euphemism, about suicide with those you fear are at risk, to provide an open door to a frank conversation. This is important stuff. And so I return to the challenge of this review. I have offered my opinion about the theatrical merits, given the context in which I responded to the piece. I am not sure in this case, that is the be all and end all.