Set in the studio space above the All Press Coffee Roasterie in Collingwood, Gabriel Bergmoser’s latest play, Regression, feels somewhat of an immersive experience rather than a mere theatrical presentation, aided by the unique performance space and some interesting and clever directorial choices. Recipient of the 2015 Sir Peter Ustinov Award for Scriptwriting, Gabriel Bergmoser comments in the programme that this play is very personal, but it’s also a story that anyone could identify with: What did we hope for the future and what actually eventuated?
Regression tells the story of 35 year old Will who participates in an experiment that takes him face to face with his 15 year old self. The concept is quite intriguing and somewhat confronting. It’s difficult for the audience to not consider what they would say and do in this same situation.
The younger 15 year old Will is foul-mouthed, strong willed and opinionated. He is focussed on sex, but somewhat lonely and still a virgin. He dreams of success as an actor in the future and when face to face with his older self, Will discovers his future doesn’t necessarily unfold the way he anticipates it will. The older Will realises his memories of certain people and experiences have changed over the years and the feelings he had as a teenager he had long forgotten. What he remembers is not necessarily the same as what he felt at the time. It’s a complex but fascinating storyline, as long as you simply assume the pseudo-science is plausible.
Bergmoser is quick to explain this is not a time-travel concept and there’s some good laughs whenever the “space-time continuum” is mentioned. The premise is that the younger self is merely an image; a ghost expression and not a real person. The concept is believable enough to accept and focus on what an older self would say to a younger self. What isn’t really clear enough is what is really taking place – is this a drug induced state? What’s the ipad really doing? Are the characters being manipulated by the doctor/psychologist or is it all in the older Will’s mind? There are possibly too many unanswered and unresolved questions around the “science” of the experiment and if you dwell on this too much it becomes distracting. A little more clarity and depth to the story about this procedure would help.
Tim Constantine gives an excellent performance as the older Will. He brings a level of maturity and reflection to his character that endears him to the audience. He’s the much more likeable character and one the audience can more readily identify with. Jason Jeffries is the younger Will and is convincing as a cocky and self-indulged teenager with big dreams for his future, but there are some moments when you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. Life isn’t easy as a teenager.
Tom Reed is Tyler, the doctor/psychologist (I wasn’t quite sure which) and brings a confident portrayal that connects the audience to the action and ensuring his ultimate motivation for this experimental procedure is believable. Tyler seems more interested in what is unfolding in his experiment than genuinely caring about his patient.
The final member of the cast is Samantha Cunnane as Julie, the teenage friend of the younger will, also convincing her portrayal.
Regression is clever and provocative. As a first presentation of this new work, Regression offers a huge amount of promise and with some further edits could be a thrilling play. The ending felt somewhat abrupt and I was left wanting more. Some further fleshing out could easily extend the play and give more closure or perhaps even leave the audience on a more tantalising cliff edge to conclude for themselves. The current ending comes so quickly it would be easy to miss the final lines and the point of the story.
While Tyler’s motivation is made clear, I was left uncertain as to why Will participated in this experiment in the first place. Some further exploration would aid the storyline development. The presence of Julie in the opening scenes of the play also wasn’t explained and dampened the impact of her sudden appearance in Will’s “treatment sessions”. In fact, the presence of both Julie and the younger Will in the opening scene before the older Will was even introduced simply left me with too many unanswered questions – but any further discussion could spoil the plot.
Director Joachim Matschoss has found the quirkiness in this storyline and amplified it to the full extent. The opening takes the audience by surprise. The contrasting personalities of the older Wills and the younger Wills is expertly balanced. Matschoss has also found the lighter moments in the story and there’s quite a few laughs along the way. The performance in the round and, at times, behind members of the audience, is cleverly handled and the cast are well suited to their roles.
The use of random projected images on the back wall was initially somewhat interesting to watch, as they didn’t necessarily have any connection to the storyline – in the way that memories can evoke random thoughts and images – but as I became engrossed in the storyline I found myself completely ignoring them and only vaguely aware they were still there.
What I did find very distracting and annoying was the use of background music at seemingly random moments. At times the music made it difficult to hear the spoken dialogue, particularly if the performer had his back turned to the audience. The sound balance did improve as the play progressed but whenever the music started up again I found myself being distracted from the story and somewhat frustrated – a feeling that was thankfully addressed during the play itself.
Overall, Regression is a provocative work of theatre, that will leave you wondering about your own memories and experiences. Go experience it and see if you can resist the urge to consider what you’d say to your own younger self.
Regression is playing until Saturday 27th August.