Emily Elderfield reviews the latest student-written production from Mermaids, in a word.
Fiona and Guy have a son, Tristan. Two years ago, Tristan went missing. Since then, Fiona has been unable to process what happened. in a word is surreal, funny and wounding in equal measure, about the words we use and the thoughts we get trapped in. This production, headed by director Shaina Sullivan and producer Seonaid Rapach, boasted some promising talent but at times fell short in allowing the complexities of the script to flourish.
On the whole, the cast navigated the tricky midpoint between comedy and melancholy well. There were beats for the absurdist wordplay to garner laughs, and Joshua Matuszeski’s various characterisations, from indifferent, unhelpful detective to creepy man in the grocery store, provided welcome levity to the dark subject matter. However, the cast failed to give the rawness of the script room to grow. Georgia Luckhurst, playing Fiona, had a firm hand on her character’s anger and confusion but rushed many of her lines, meaning that there was no space for Fiona’s pain to develop in. There were few counterpoints or shades to her characterisation, meaning that it was impossible to build up enough empathy with Fiona to appreciate the distressing effects of Tristan’s tragic disappearance. There was also, confusingly, very little movement and contact from Fiona and Guy during their conversations, which in such a dialogue-centric play left many scenes looking wooden and under-rehearsed.
The stand-out moments of the production, in particular Guy’s monologue (Matthew Lansdell), occurred when the actors stopped being afraid of silence. I wish they could have made more use of pauses and quiet moments; all three actors frequently fell into the trap of hurrying through lines (as evidenced by the fact that the play finished a full 15 minutes short of its usual runtime), and whether this was a directorial choice or first-night nerves is hard to say. Either way, giving the characters more space to breathe would have created a much more compelling and resonant tonal arc to the play.
Acting aside, the stage design was simple but striking, and beautifully conveyed Fiona’s inability to distinguish between the present and the past. One small corner represented Fiona and Guy’s living room, which melted away into a bare, black space containing only the odd transient piece of furniture. The cast handled the multiple shifts in time and memory well, moving confidently between spaces and conveying the overwhelming, unnavigable loop of thoughts they were stuck in.
In the hands of playwright Lauren Yee, words become putty, to be pulled at and run through fingers and configured into new shapes. The script brims with words, all jumbled and piled into each other, but unfortunately this production never quite mastered how to portray the genius of Yee’s script. Interactions often felt too naturalistic when there should have been more made of the games the words were playing, and so while the arc of Tristan’s mysterious disappearance unfolded nicely, the intentional absurdity of the play did not. Overall, an admirable attempt that didn’t quite come to fruition.
STARS: * * *