Q44 is part of the growing wave of ensemble theatre companies emerging in Melbourne. They produce the plays they want to perform, they cast from within the ranks of the ensemble and, in theory, they develop an inbuilt connection between the actors.
A play like Spike Heels, that explores relationships (and a set of relationships that plays like a four-sided love triangle) as well as sexual harassment, misogyny, wealth, and class is bound to put that connection to the test. Aside from a few moments of beautiful humanity, this cast frequently falls short of that test.
The show opens in Anthony’s (Anthony Scundi) apartment. He’s an academic who fancies himself as a Henry Higgins to Georgie (Nicole Melloy), the Eliza Doolittle who lives upstairs. She is a waiter-turned-secretary: bold, brash and as loud as her shoes (the spike heels of the title).
Shortly, we meet Edward (Michael Robins, who delivers the standout performance of the show), a criminal lawyer and Anthony’s friend. Robins’ connection to his cast-mates is palpable, and he somehow manages to turn a self-confessed sleaze into the most sympathetic character of the piece.
We return in the second act to Georgie’s apartment. The layout is identical to Michael’s, but ordered books and a Nietzche quote make way for piles of clothes and empty food boxes, and a massive Prince mural. (It’s worth noting here that the set design was superb – simple, representative and evocative.) It is in this act that we meet Lydia (Lelda Kapsis), Anthony’s fiancée and Edward’s ex-girlfriend.
With at least one tête-à-tête for each pair of characters, there are plenty of opportunities for the actors to rediscover their connections with each other. It’s just such a shame, in an obviously well-rehearsed and researched piece, complete with great casting, perfect set and costume design, and solid direction, that those connections don’t hold.
Some of the most beautiful moments in this show come when the actors are not the centre of attention. Then they allow themselves to listen, be in the moment, and display a beautiful vulnerability that really gets to you.
There were a few choices in the direction that may have contributed to this, such as having lines delivered to the front, which detracted from the naturalistic style of the show, but on the whole it felt like the actors were simply not connected before they stepped on stage.
All that aside, this show was, on the whole, delightfully enjoyable and moving. The audience (myself included) had plenty of laughs and were definitely touched by a solid performance. I get the feeling that Q44 are going to go from strength to strength.
Director: Gabriella Rose-Carter Cast: Lelda Kapsis, Nicole Melloy, Michael Robins, Anthony Scundi Production Manager / Set Design: Rebecca Fortuna Costume Design: Daniel Harvey
Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Performance: Thursday 11 September 2014
Season: 27 August – 14 September 2014
For more information, visit: www.q44.com.au/spike-heels for details.
Image: Nicole Melloy and Lelda Kapsis in Spike Heels – courtesy of Q44 Theatre Company