Riot Stage F - photo by Sarah WalkerF. begins with a nubile figure gently rippling under golden light. Actually it begins before this, with a subterranean hum filling the space before she steps out as the audience find their seats. It’s an arresting way to start the show. She’s a totem, but also a statement of intent to take that totem apart.

It’s both the fear for some as well as the idealised goal – to have absolute control over your sexual agency, free of fear, awkwardness, and doubt, hurting no one, with no care as to others’ opinions or judgements. The light fades back to black, the figure withdraws, and the show proceeds to disassemble what she represents – in poetic, as well as blunt, fashion.

The set is like something out of a dream: A shard of torn plaster from the ceiling, a fishing net with soft toys, a dilapidated basketball hoop, the family couch, a dumpster. A shopping trolley, along with others wheels will coast past. Much like the set, the scenes themselves interconnect as if following dream logic.

One of the wonderful aspects of F. is how the writing shifts from moment to moment without feeling the need to explain itself. The audience may not know where they’re going, but they’re never disorientated. Like a Larry Clark film – but with a lot more kindness and heart – F. isn’t afraid to touch on some darker topics.

Alanna Marshall’s voice might have been lost on occasion thanks to the unforgiving acoustics of the ballroom, but then again, aren’t issues of voice – not being heard even when you are speaking – part of what’s being explored? For all the bustle of overlapping scenes and sounds, Alanna performed with sensitivity and grace.

Another highlight was a songified musical number by a different cast member (identifying them may cause accidental spoileridge, so I won’t name them) that was glorious. But, the entire cast equipped themselves admirably – especially in the last scene, an unsettling look at the hidden reality that can exist behind the phrase, “I’m fine.”

And then we get a denouement that can only be described as anarchic, yet is almost a microcosm of the whole show. F. has madness, moments of clumsiness, but there’s so much beauty in its disarray. What’s brave about the production is less the questions it asks, but more that it doesn’t try to answer them. You realise the best quality isn’t the commitment of the writing, performances, or direction – but their curiosity. More please!

New Ballroom – Victorian Trades Hall, 54 Victoria Street, Carlton
Performance: Thursday 1 December 2016 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 11 December 2016
Bookings: www.poppyseed.net.au

For more information, visit: www.riotstage.com for details.

Image: Cast of Riot Stage’s F. – photo by Sarah Walker

Review: David Collins