This Way Up

(Brisbane Powerhouse)


By Elizabeth Coleman

Professional/amateur production

Cast: Ali Kerr, Kathryn Marquet, Gavin Edwards, Ray Tiernan, Gillian Simpson

Since when do men consent to polishing the silverware after their partner announces they are deserting them and after discovering their belongings bundled together without their knowledge? Certainly not in this lifetime!

Elizabeth Coleman’s script is contrived. She let the team down in This Way Up and there is little room for excuses from director Cienda McNamara for directing a play billed as a comedy which fails to invoke belly laughs or resonate strongly with contemporary audiences. After the success of Secret Bridesmaids’ Business, this was a disappointment.

But the audience is treated to a great set and an excellent performance by Ray Tiernan as journalist Nick Brown.

This play is about relationships – the absent partner, a guy in love with the wrong girl, a girl in love with the right guy who doesn’t notice she’s alive, and a woman who wants her absent partner to give up his day job. And there is a cheeky comment about the police as Gillian Simpson plays Senior Sergeant O’Brian.

Ali Kerr plays Melanie, a girl in her twenties who is tired of “sleeping with the Walkley award” and is prepared to ditch her journalist partner Nick who is always away performing mundane employment rituals like saving lives while risking his own.

When Nick returns home earlier than expected after a long assignment overseas, Melanie reacts by telling him to “go and have a lie down” and “polish the silverware”. And he does it! This heavily clichéd male characterisation features throughout the play and is just old-fashioned.

The measure of the play’s phoniness starts with Melanie prancing about the stage obsessed with packing up the house, polishing, dusting and avoiding in-your-face issues like breaking up with her partner and openly declaring the truth to her sister. This is too far removed from reality to be funny.

The tiny audience of 12 laughed about three times in a two-and-a-half hour show. Audiences are street-wise these days. They’ve grown up with reality TV and terrorism and are sensitised to artificiality. Theatre-goers should expect cunning interrogation of reality and stimulating reflections of the truth. Anything less is insulting.

Melanie’s sister Kristen (Kathryn Marquet) does a good job despite the script. She is a psychology student who analyses the goings-on. She frequently hits the nail on the head with her interpretations of her sister’s state of denial but after delivering her wisdom, her character retreats from it, collapsing into a girlish inanity and coyness which fails to develop any level of sophistication.

Damien is Nick’s best friend and he is secretly in love with Melanie. Gavin Edwards’ fondness for Melanie is over-the-top and his performance is strained and farcical.

A domestic next door turns into a violent siege and means the four are stuck inside together where another, less violent but disturbing siege begins using emotional weapons.

Melanie holds an emotional gun to everyone’s head in her attempt to control everything by refusing to face or talk about what’s really going on. She dominates the action as partner Nick finds a news story closer to home and Damien and Kristen fire blanks until they find fire in eachother. And a certain well-known telecommunications company also comes under siege!

But the lines are predictable. Melanie looks deeply into Nick’s eyes and is sorry for trying to stop him doing what he loves most after she wanted all the attention. And Damien and Kristen find true love and it all becomes rather clichéd.

Writer Elizabeth Coleman fails to nab the complexity of human relationships and what really goes on behind closed doors. This play is more farce than comedy as it tries to re-invent Big Brother but ends up being The Bold and the Beautiful.

Set designer Julie Leaver put together a great set and deserves credit for her cardboard box theme which invigorated the script and reinforced the themes. But where on earth did the girls get their costumes? The very unflattering, long black boofy number worn by Melanie looked like something off the set of Gone with the Wind. And poor Kristen could have done with some reality clothing – I don’t know anyone of that age who wears high heels with knee-highs and long shorts. Not even daggy dressers do that!

Nick Brown’s performance is flawless. He looks the part and delivers his lines with remarkable dedication. His talent nurtures the script and makes it believable and at times compelling, especially when he is on the phone to his editor. His performance anchors the play to a sophistication it desperately needs.

Reality television has advanced viewers through the doors of saccharine smiles and into a harsher world of reality. ‘I Love Lucy’ or ‘Martin the Martian’ have lost much of their appeal because they are completely contrived and today’s audiences no longer have the patience for nonsense.

This Way Up should be labelled handle with care.

Directed by Cienda McNamara

Playing Wednesday 5 October to Saturday 15 October, 8pm

Duration: 2 hours fifteen minutes, 15 minute interval

— Daphne Haneman
(Performance seen: Sun 9th October 2005)