The Watcher/Pushing Uluru

(Metro Arts Theatre)


This double bill at Metro Arts is a satisfying double. In The Watcher Simone and Helen are close friends who are in the process of moving into a new house. Fairly basic premise, except that the house (or stairwell in the house) is haunted. Could be a bit of fun, living with tortured spirits and all, but my experience watching B grade horror would dictate otherwise. There’s a knock at the door, and James introduces himself. He is there to film the appearance of the ghost, but for some reason to Helen, he is strangely familiar.

Writer/director Stephen Martin has done a commendable job with this project. He creates his characters with warmth and economy. Sallie Don is fanciful and petulant as Helen. She is dealing with the loss of her sister, a weight she carries with the assistance of the well-humoured Simone (Rebecka Wright). She is pragmatic as she negotiates the seemingly unbalanced James (Dirk Hoult). Hoult lurks outside the girl’s door, interjecting sporadically and grinding the cogs in his camera as he tweaks the wits of those around him.

Indeed the scariest moments throughout the play owe a lot to the sound design; this is conducted with good effect and ample volume. The Watcher begins with an uneasy sound-scape and builds with intermittent bone crunching thuds and anguished wails.

In contrast, Martin also invents a warm repoire between his players and engages the audience with tongue-in-cheek laughs. This provides a good foundation for the frights that follow.

The Watcher does seem to lose some form towards the end however. The climax of the play seems pushed, and certain character behaviours appear unlikely and without motivation. Don is enthusiastic as Helen, but seems detached from her character at certain points in the performance. Similarly, Wright seems occasionally unsure what to do with the script. Hoult’s character invites him to be on edge for much of the play; however, instances of clarity or poise would have been beneficial in creating a greater sense of depth in his persona.

Never the less, the play strikes a chord where good thrillers should. The basic set structure helps with this. The single door swings with a mind of it’s own, leaving the audience apprehensive about what lies beyond it, and indeed what may emerge through it. The Watcher functions well as one act play and is well worth seeing as both an example of local literary talent and for a good scare.

Pushing Uluru centres on the interesting scenario of three generations climbing Uluru. A son, a father and a grandfather. Grandpa however makes the ascent in a small tuppaware container, his kin climbing with the intention of sprinkling him across the wide brown land.

Ian hasn’t seen his estranged father Bob for sometime. As they trek they try to relate to each other, negotiating each other’s differences and gradually drawing out the uncertainties and half truths that lie in their past. Along the way they meet the bubbly Christine. She is climbing the rock to escape a touring party of senior citizens and intersects the trio spasmodically throughout the drama.

Jason Klaassen is very entertaining as the awkward Ian, a young man struggling with the perils of hormones, high school and the adolescence in general. He looks to his father, searching for some semblance of guidance, a quality Bob is all to keen to shirk. Luke Rimmelszwaan is boisterous and rambunctious as Ian’s father. I am reminded of John Goodman’s “Walter” in The Big Lebowski. A man with strong (if misplaced) principles, he tries to accommodate his son through his black-and-white approach to life. Christine has her own challenges and issues; however her function in the play seems primarily to draw features from her fellow characters. Benita Hardy is well cast in this role: she is sufficiently aloof and fancy free.

Directed by Stephen Martin and written by Glen Player, Pushing Uluru embodies some interesting and probing themes. The chemistry between characters is at times very absorbing and produces excellent dramatic action. Some characterisations however appear clunky and obvious. The conclusion of the play realises some sense of resolution except for Christine. She appears to be left hanging and could possibly have done with more development.

As a one-act play Pushing Uluru works well. It is a compelling piece of work and is another example of some of Brisbane’s fine literary talent.

— Damian Sommerlad
(Performance seen: Wed 22nd October 2003)