Described as a “hallucinatory review” of Wake’s life, the play is regrettably too languid and meandering to approach the fantastical and dream-like qualities of a hallucination. Too often, extremely slow cues and dropping at the end of lines meant scenes became wearisome when you desperately wanted them to engage.
In a show that depicted its fair share of violence, the choice has been made to forgo the vicious for the stylised and you begin to lament that choice as the play progresses. What if a sedate gun to the head of a lingerie-clad informer was replaced with a determined strangulation?
What if instead of conveying Henri’s torture through the wounded placement of the chair before his scene begins, some of that torment is depicted during the scene itself? The violent treatment of collaborators during the war (and certainly once France was liberated) was well documented, so what if we witness that vitriol by having Young Nancy actually spit in Sabine’s face?
The main stage of Gasworks is a tricky space to fill and, to be sure, cast and crew have tried their darnedest, but Underground would benefit from a smaller geography placed not quite so far back from the audience. While Margot Knight’s voice had that beautiful relaxed, resonant quality that effortlessly reached the back row, the other performers struggled in moments to be heard as clearly.
Margot was a delight in her role as the older Nancy, as was Emma Annand as her younger counterpart. Ezra Bix did well as ghost and real Henri. Billy Sloane played a better hero than Nazi, but performed with gusto. Tori McCann was compelling to watch, whether as Sabine, or present-day Nancy’s carer.
Underground is an engrossing text by playwright Christine Croyden. With a little more imagination in its realisation, the show would sing.
Gasworks Theatre – Gasworks Arts Park, 21 Graham Street, Albert Park
Performance: Friday 8 March 2019 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 9 March 2019
Information and Bookings: www.gasworks.org.au
Following the Gasworks season, Underground will be presented at The Bowery Theatre, St Albans (15 March); Burrinja Cultural Centre, Upwey (16 March); Shirley Burke Theatre, Parkdale (4 April); and Knox Community Arts Centre, Bayswater (6 April).
Image: Margot Knight stars in Underground (supplied)
Review: David Collins