Lab Kelpie Broken - photo by Jodie HutchinsonBroken weaves together three traumatised story threads across the haze-filled expanse of fortyfivedownstairs. It’s affecting to see so much of the space used, a shallow layer of thin smoke resting before the play begins. Not all the space is used, however.

Those familiar with the fortyfivedownstairs will realise that one whole side of the theatre has been boarded off. Wooden planks have been layered (most straight, some haphazard) in such a way to suggest a solid wall, yet when the lights behind are operated severe narrow beams cut across the stage and performers. It’s a startling effect – one of many moments that startle throughout the show.

I last saw Lyall Brooks give a compelling yet terrifying performance in A Prudent Man. Here, the terror may not be present, but his turn as Ham, an off-duty SES officer who comes across a car accident, is just as gripping. Mary Anne Butler does a nice thing by sprinkling small moments of levity along some of Ham’s lines, which Lyall delivers expertly.

Naomi Rukavina played Ash, who Ham finds after she endures a horrific car crash. As the show progresses she has some of the play’s more contorted physicality. Conveyed with as much poetry as the script, Naomi’s performance and her character’s plight pulls us right down in the contorted darkness with her.

Ham’s partner, Mia, who endures the end of a life just as Ham is elsewhere saving one, was played by Sophie Ross. It was an excellent performance that reminded you of the razor thin edge of knife. Her role didn’t so much land on the audience as it cut. The script was a scalpel in her hands and that early tragic talk got inside where it may not have been welcome.

Which is the skilful, sleight-of-hand Lab Kelpie have pulled here – presenting an uncomfortable work that’s almost impossible not to watch. Much like the gentle speed you slow down to when you spot an accident ahead, the deliberate pace and sparse staging of Broken holds your attention. A difficult work that deserves an audience (albeit with some slightly better content warnings). The great work of Lab Kelpie continues.

Fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Season continues to 25 November 2018

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Image: Naomi Rukavina, Lyall Brooks, Sophie Ross feature in Broken – photo by Jodie Hutchinson

Review: David Collins