“Sometimes things that are [lavish] are worse.” To paraphrase the hot new meme in town, what I’m trying to say is that throwing loads of money at a production doesn’t mean it’s suddenly going to be the hottest thing going. Stripping a production back to its bare bones can actually make the words of the script mean far more. Take six wildly different characters, as playwright Helena Jacques-Morton has in Rock and Hunt, set them on six chairs, and let the six different narratives do the talking.
The one thing that struck me about Rock and Hunt was how isolated it was. This is a play concerned with the human experience and, more importantly, the universality of loneliness. Despite the fact that Jacques-Morton linked each of the monologues with a cue word, impressively caught by each of the actors and only occasionally missed (this may have been intentional), that some of the characters overlapped with each other, and each of their monologues concerned some kind of loneliness, each of these characters are truly isolated. Jacques-Morton has managed to divide them all, even on the same stage.
A play like this, simple and yet massively intricate, requires strong and stable (ahem) direction. Directors Joanna Bowman and Rowan Wishart have clearly workshopped with each of their actors individually, adding quirks and characteristics to each of the characters that a less thorough director would simply forget about. For example, Cate (Caitlin Morris), a fourteen-year-old girl who has had her innocence shattered, is curled up protectively, clutching her water cup like it’s a lifeline. Two chairs over, Luke (Edward Prendergast), a similar age to her, is sprawled out faux-casually, taking up space in order to convince both himself and everyone else that he is, in fact, a Casanova figure and not an insecure teenage boy desperate to take care of his mum.
Each of the actors in this play is in tune with his or her characterisation, never breaking even when they weren’t talking, and followed each other’s cues with impressive timing and accuracy. Anoushka Kohli as Laura, a mother who feels like a ‘failure’ after losing her baby, and Jared Liebmiller as James, an alcoholic unemployed ex-army vet who feels he has let down his wife and children, had the most upsetting stories. They did not rely on shouting to convey their heartbreak, but silent tears and shaking voices. Morris and Prendergast as the two teenagers were both completely different in their characterisation- innocent and heartbroken versus brash and bold- but they both conveyed with utter aplomb the insecurities that come with youth. Prendergast’s wild bragging about how many college girls he’d slept with was hilarious, as he insisted that he most emphatically was not lying, but Morris was quietly upset and her occasional sniffling was heart-wrenching.
The most endearing performances came from Rowan Salisbury as Fred, a middle-aged maths teacher exploring the world of gay dating apps, and Amy Chubb as Josie, a 78-year-old lady alone on her birthday who is taunted by a Victoria sponge gifted to her. They both used their voices and physicality to convey their ages and their insecurities at being left alone: Fred, without a life partner, and Josie, without anyone to celebrate with her after her husband’s death. Salisbury was wonderfully flustered and disgusted while discussing the ‘pictures’ he’d been sent on the apps and the audience was delighted when he finally spotted the date he’d thought had stood him up. Chubb portrayed a sharp and witty old lady who loves to dance and keeps cutting slices of cake, insisting ‘another won’t hurt!’ She was absolutely delightful to watch and it was impressive how well she embodied the age of her character.
Jacques-Morton is a sophisticated writer, and Rock and Hunt is a script of many emotions. It is difficult to link together the story of an alcoholic man whose journey leads him to what could be the end of his life, with a young teenage boy who just wants to be accepted by his peers, but Jacques-Morton achieves this with plentiful sensitivity. The play ended with each character standing, and perhaps the most effective yet heart-breaking piece of direction ensured that James was alone on the top platform of the stage, standing on the edge of a footbridge over the highway.
Rock and Hunt is a play of huge highs and devastating lows, contrasting maturity with immaturity. However, it also reminds us that everyone believes they have failed and no-one is alone in how they feel, even if it seems like it.
STARS: * * * * *
Catch Rock and Hunt at Paradise in The Vault (Venue 29) at 17.50 everyday until 19th Aug