If life has no meaning, and death has no meaning, what on Earth are we searching for?
Written and directed by Aleksandr Corke, ‘Q’ explores the places those go post-mortem and their search for certainty in death. With familiar characters in familiar settings but with a rather unfamiliar twist, Corke’s script challenges not only the worth of memories and moments, but all the values we attach to our life and what they become when deceased. If death is just a series of white-washed walls and office corridors that repeat in an endless cycle, do we just travel the waiting rooms until we lose all conscience and sense of life before dissipating into time? Oh, wait… isn’t that life?
Corke’s script is a series of series, with monologues and vignettes to farcical conversations and non-naturalistic apparitions; manipulating these conventions are the array of styles explored in the rollercoaster of light and shade that is ‘Q’. Corke’s direction keeps the styles conducive of each other and allows a steady flow between moments, making sense of the sudden leaps between comedy and drama like it were the jaggedness of a death-lagged mind itself. With some smart placement and positioning at hand, Corke allowed all on stage to have their shining moment while never overpowering anyone else, which is a feat to be feared; however, due to some other reliant elements and forced moments, there were times when the direction came across as a theatre class rehearsing their end of year group exam, with cramped and clanky interactions and some disconcertingly dramatic moments that pop up here and there unexpectedly. This may indeed be more of a flaw in the script’s writing and its inconsistencies; all in all, there was a vast scope of methods and motions at hand that ought to be commended.
Moulding his performers to work the various nuances, Corke allows each performer to shine in their own unique way. Alanah Allen, Aishlinn Murray, Ashleigh Gray, Caitlin Duff, Edan Goodall, Max Paton, Reilly Holt and Wil King all become an array of characters with strong, differing personalities, each crisp in their own performance and intention, each strengthened by their character’s motivation and direction. Certain props became keys and hooks in the piece, including a packet of cigarettes and many file cases, all of which were used effectively and relative to the story of each character to which the object was exposed. As mentioned, there were moments that felt more theatre class project than professional theatre, but each actor must be recognised for their strengths and collective versatility.
A good show is indicative of the cohesiveness and conduciveness of lighting and sound, and this show is no exception to the rule. Lighting Designer Georgie Wolfe and Sound Designer Justin Gardam come together to highlight the many non-naturalistic instances, beaming and spotlighting and underscoring and highlighting in waves of contrast and colour. Creating flashbacks on stage and allowing soliloquies to keep focus through their extrinsic support, Wolfe and Gardam’s designs are just as well-contemplated and intelligent as Corke’s direction, smoothing any missteps with their spectacle and soundscape.
One element that did not live up to the rest was that of the set created by Set Designer Nathan Burmeister. What seems a hand-made proscenium stage creaks at every movement and calls out over the voices of the actors, proving a barrier in the dull acoustics of the space. Most of the time, the set was a classroom table with simple chairs in a scatter of locations, creating what seemed a parent-teacher interview in the first act and the remains of an angrily-lost game of musical chairs in the second act. With wooden bars standing upstage left with a few coats hooks, we are not sure if we are looking at an abstract coat rack, the wallpaper of a bamboo massage parlour or a substitute prison cell. When the piece discusses being in a typical office and moving between your usual waiting rooms, the aesthetic almost contradicts the location of the piece, getting us lost in an unknown limbo… but not in a way that supports those themes in the piece.
However, Burmeister shows his aesthetic prowess in another field. Also playing the Costume Designer, Burmeister really works the power dynamics between both the customers and the businessmen that dabble in death. Stripping our departed of their clothes, identities and possessions in a near-Holocaust manner, those who are part of the organisation of signing the departed off to death are dressed to the nines in suits and high-waisted pants that show their tailored presentation, combined with neat hair and clean faces.
When memories slowly fade in a place where time does not exist, what are we when we lose those memories completely? Is worth worth something? Anything? Is signing your life away by ticking a box on a contract an option; an alternative? Or a compulsion; a definitive? Who knows. And that is no question – that is a statement. Death is so abstract, it can never be answered.