The idea of control informs every scene in the show, with the loss of control acting as two respective hilarious and moving bookends: We open on a spaceship out of control, mayhem on the bridge, frantic, heightened voices climbing on top of each other; We end on a finely measured moment of giving up control, an act of surrender, watching it walk away in even it means a broken heart.
Rocket ships don’t necessarily make a text a work of science fiction, but futuristic elements abound across Control’s three acts, each set decades apart from the others in some far-flung amount of years from now.
To be sure, what starts off as a wry scenario of sending humans off-world (to ensure humanity’s survival) by way of a reality television-type oversight heads in an unexpected yet fascinating direction in its third act as playwright Keziah Warner and director Julian Meyrick take the audience on an affecting journey from outer to inner space.
Emily Collett’s marvellous set was a stylised painting writ large – three wide, high strips of gauze undulating from floor to ceiling like a handful of brushstrokes over an otherwise unremarkable tiered floor. Emily’s costume work was also terrific, partly due to its simplicity.
Coloured layers with a patch, reminiscent of Star Trek (though considering the language, The Orville, might be the better comparison), were worn as standard dress in Act 1, then twisted and stylised for Act 2. In Act 3, the two actors changed into gentle-coloured, functional gowns, that suited the tone of the writing and performances.
Samuel Rowe was suitably boisterous in places, playing both Jake and Xavier. Dushan Phillips was quieter but remained charismatic in his roles of Andrew and Alex. Christina O’Neill – playing Elizabeth, Nicki, and Isabelle – and Naomi Rukavina – playing Laura, Caroline, and Esta – were brilliant throughout.
Their final scene appears gimmicky at first but quickly draws us in thanks to their fine performances and superb direction. What they wring from the text is light in some moments and devastating in others. You’d struggle to recall such an uncomplicated yet utterly beautiful ending to a play.
Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel Street, St Kilda East
Performance: Wednesday 9 October 2019 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 3 November 2019
Information and Bookings: www.redstitch.net
Image: Christina O’Neill, Samuel Rowe, Naomi Rukavina and Dushan Philips in Control – photo by Jodie Hutchinson
Review: David Collins