Zigzag Street

(La Boite Theatre)


For its over-the-hill move from Lang Park to Kelvin Grove, La Boite Theatre could not have chosen a more regionally-relevant first play than the Philip Dean dramatisation of the Nick Earls nifty novel Zigzag Street.

Trashed by his partner Anna, Richard (“Miniature”) Derrington fluctuates from self-pity to neighbourly (for old codger Kevin) and Galahadish (for shoe-struck Rachel) generosity, with a welter of advice from friends Jeff and Sally and a theatre-in-the round of co-workers and pals, even the lady reporter and prying medico.

In tune with its name, the novel zigzags from cartoon comedy to heartburn. The dramatisation preserves this variety. Not easy to move from the dabble-diary format into stageshow style, but this script, directed with a tough sensitivity by Jean-Marc Russ and played by a highly-strung quintet, succeeds in both tickling the ribs and touching the heart.

In the epicentre is Mark Conaghan who, as the self-flagellating Richard, believably evokes every mood from sexual starvation to nostalgic devotion to his dead grandparents. Caroline Dunphy, Cara McIlveen and Yalin Ozucelik are brilliantly busy as they interlock with Richard as he belatedly comes to terms with himself. Then in Act 2 Melissa McMahon as the smitten (literally) Rachel tugs at his heart strings and ours too.

I wondered how any designer could cope with the range of locale, from airport to coffee shop, from office to flat (without blackouts). But Bill Haycock’s beehive of brightness, with ramp and furniture and billions of boxes, works multiplace miracles. Greg, the ginger-haired medic, (not to be confused with Greg the cat) needs only a tray to establish his surgery.

David Walters and Owen Jolley complement the movement skills of the cast (flawlessly stage managed by Danielle Kellie and Anika Vilée) with the interplay of light and sound that enables even the “full frontal” (except for fig-leafy Tim Tams) to seem subtle. Indeed, the stage version makes the post-midnight office frolic more believable by Richard’s spilling liquid on his shirt, so he has a strong motive for starting his Monty.

A slow motion treatment helps the crucial (but tall-storyish) plot turning point of the contact between Hillary’s Richard-held shoe and the downwards-escalating Rachel in Brisbane’s Broadway.

Compressing the novel’s footy field of players to the capacities of an acting quintet means that several characters have to be shown the exit door but playwright Dean has managed to evoke the country music codger Kevin in an audio tape, while even the ginger cat Greg (named after the freakish doctor of Yalin Ozucelik) seems to be there, emitting fleas that itch the barn-dancy legs of suburban journalist Renee (Cara McIlveen).

As Hillary (who is a bit more than Richard’s boss, under the offstage chocolate-coffee-bean-chewing Barry) Caroline Dunphy combines with Mark Conaghan in a double-bed scene that transcends bedroom farce.

The play and its source novel find the pulse of youth and young adulthood, ranging from business bullshit to bean-induced farting. Yet poignant moments such as Richard’s reading (later echoed in Rachel’s) of grandfather’s letter, which evokes the Somme battlefield, embrace the elderly too.

Larger than life is Zigzag yet even when it lurches into the surreal it retains the aroma of its Brizzy backstreet base, like grandmother’s old toaster with its mouldy mouse leg.

The successful launching of a brand new theatre is a triumph for La Boite’s whole team led by artistic director Sean Mee, general manager Craig Whitehead, public relations head Rosemary Herbert and production manager Mark Lloyd Hunt. And former artistic director Sue Rider must get a guernsey for initially suggesting this adaptation to Philip Dean.

— Paul Sherman
(Performance seen: Fri 20th February 2004)