Actress and playwright, Didem Caia, is a recipient of a Grace Marion Wilson Fellowship through Writers Victoria and The Wheeler Centre. She is also a 2013 winner of the R E Ross Trust Playwrights' Award, and was accorded a Playwriting Australia script development workshop for her new play, Vile.
Directed by Elizabeth Millington, the veteran Australian playwright, Hannie Rayson, provided the show’s dramaturgy.
Vile is the story of Melanie Ryder, a bright seventeen year – old schoolgirl whose unstable working class background slowly suffocates and betrays her.
A shocking, senseless act quickly derails her future.
The play opens and closes with this damning moment. However, what makes Vile such a provocative character study, is how its lead up and fall out is communicated.
At two hours in length, Caia's play unfolds over a series of extended episodes,
This structure gradually allows viewers to both know and understand the protagonist, and how she interacts with and impacts her immediate circle. From Ryder's longtime boyfriend, or her ineffectual mother, to the mysterious new resident next door, no one is left untouched by her presence.
What sets Vile apart from conventional story – telling, is that it is established within two time frames set a decade apart. The events in 1999 move backward from December to July. While the events in 2009 move forward, from July to December. (Projected titles before each scene announce and establish the play’s segmented timelines.)
With Vile, Caia appears to have taken a complex cinematic device and applied it to live theatre.
The technique of non – linear story telling is demonstrated to expert effect in such films as Jane Campion's Two Friends (1985), Atom Egoyan's Exotica (1994), Christopher Nolan's Memento (2000), Alejandro González Iñárritu's 21 Grams (2003) and Jonathan Teplitzky's Burning Man (2011).
These particular examples make audiences work hard to understand the players and their motives. The possibility being, that time splices and space jumps are often treated like a random box of jigsaw pieces. The rewarding pay – off however, is when an author finally allows viewers to systematically lock these visual and verbal clues together.
Taking that into consideration, Caia has set herself an ambitious challenge. Where film has the luxury of fast editing and quick cross – cutting to build and drive the narrative, independent stage has no such advantage. What theatre does have in its favour, is a greater latitude to develop characterization through dialogue.
Caia herself writes in the production notes that “the audience be faced with a character’s action first, and the reasoning for the action last. This way, the emphasis is placed on the beginning and one single moment that has led to their life unraveling.”
Perhaps like a handful of Woody Allen's more serious dramas such as Interiors (1978), September (1987), Another Woman (1988), or Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie (1944) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) Vile is essentially a chamber piece where the players hang on for dear life.
Following the play’s dual paths, Caia’s characters often drift away from their respective realities. Letting them slip from everyday conscious conversations, she unlocks their minds to reveal her players’ innermost thoughts, dreams and fears.
Captured at their most vulnerable, like Robert Frost’s famous poem, the road not taken is a theme visited often throughout the play.
An unexpected twist late in the show clarifies Ryder’s choice. In no way defending her actions, its satisfying inclusion nevertheless helps viewers to understand Ryder’s moral release.
Perhaps to capture the play’s quicksand desperation, Clare Springett’s lighting gives Millington’s spare staging a murky, insidious hue.
As Ryder’s boyfriend, Jimmy Freely, Darcy Kent creates a strong, clear line between the character as a schoolboy and a grown man ten years later. He switches between reckless teen, and a bereft yet responsible twenty – something with ease.
Anthony West is Puppy, the enigmatic thug next door. Dripping with charismatic danger, it is easy to see why Ryder is both attracted to and repelled by his sense of sexual corruption.
Amanda McKay plays Linda, Ryder’s emotionally crippled mother. Circumstances have left her lost and confused in the scenes set in 1999, functioning yet distant in 2009. Perhaps the biggest clue to the event that bookends the play, McKay defines her character’s polemic switch with expert precision.
Without giving too much away, Todd Levi as Peter, plays Ryder’s father. The actor gives the cameo part a depth and insight that ultimately drives his daughter’s choices. Their one scene together is gripping.
Madeleine Ryan is the foundation upon which this entire story rests. Though knowing Melanie Ryder’s fate from the outset, seeing her character’s attempted hold onto normality as life around her is crumbling, will absolutely draw you in. This young actress is someone to watch.