Director and producer of “Penthouse”, Mitchell Whelan, is a recent graduate of WAAPA’s Performance Making course and a co-founder of Lazy Yarns, a Perth-based collective of contemporary story tellers. “Penthouse” was inspired by “A View from the Penthouse” which premiered in 2017 as part of TILT, the Performance Making course showcase for graduates – an annual event supported by The Blue Room Theatre. With the assistance of fellow WAAPA graduates, Campbell Pollock, Isaac Diamond and Haydon Wilson, “Penthouse” is the result of re-devising key concepts and extracts from the original piece.
Griffin, played by Wilson, is a billionaire tycoon living in a penthouse suite with his protégé Cal (Pollock). The play begins with Cal bringing musician, Finn (Diamond) into the penthouse to entertain Griffin and when Finn proves his talent as a drummer, it is implied that Finn will be helped to reach his potential as a musician. The audience is then treated to Finn’s drumming solos (expertly played by Diamond) as Griffin and Cal listen on and are suitably impressed.
There is an immediate sense of tension and menace in the room when Finn arrives and begins to play as the paradox to Griffin’s need to be entertained by brilliant artists, exposes his own inadequacies. Furthermore, there is an obvious physical connection between Finn and Griffin that never materialises, yet, it heightens the tension as Cal feels his position is under threat. The darkness increases as Finn is put through a series of questions. This scene is very cleverly realised as the lighting and sound cues resemble a remote lie detector that surrounds Finn and exposes the truth about his life. We learn that Finn was a drug addict but that he has been clean for a while, yet, this admission is all the ammunition Cal needs to bring down his rival.
Director, Whelan writes that “Penthouse” examines our “fundamental desire to be liked, and for life to be easy” which seems to reflect the character of Finn and his acceptance of the invitation to visit and then to stay at the penthouse, even though he innately senses a toxic environment. Moreover, the play speaks to the insidious nature of jealousy, selfishness and self-loathing in people who appear to admire brilliance, only to suffocate and manipulate it into mediocrity or destroy it completely.
The physical presence and actions of each performer are mesmerizing, and the play relies on this as dialogue is scarce. Consequently, whether there is stillness, movement/dance, or fighting, the physicality of the performers is very intense. This is enhanced by the sound design (also by Diamond) which propels the play forward and adds a dynamism that fuels the physical interactions.
However, the repetition of physical exchanges reveals that the play is perhaps five to ten minutes too long, when instead, the complexities of the characters could have been explored. The stimuli of toxic masculinity could be further articulated in this ten minutes, not to contradict the ‘Show don’t Tell’ tenet of theatre making, but as a means of expressing the concealed urges and fears of each character in different ways.
Whelan, Diamond, Wilson and Pollock are proving themselves to be intelligent and sophisticated theatre makers. Likewise, the Lazy Yarns team have recruited extremely capable creatives. The set design by Kaitlin Brindley and constructed by Étain Boscato defines the space and skilfully interconnects with Phoebe Pilcher’s lighting design.
“Penthouse” is showing at The Blue Room Theatre Studio: 7pm until 10 November then at 8.30pm from 13 – 17 November
Photo credit: Suzie Blatchford