The funniest stories we tell to each other are often about overwhelming sorrow. Comedy may equal tragedy, but that means that for the audience to laugh, the actors must be completely within the life on stage. They must truly believe the seriousness of their situation and honestly want their situation to improve.
Tigers Be Still is a beautiful script by Kim Rosenstock. It explores depression with a kind of wry, self-reflective nature, that gives us permission to laugh at the things we do when we can’t shake the black dog – but we desperately want to seem okay. It is written in a series of vignettes, jumping between protagonist Sherry’s home, spaces at the school where she works, and rooms in school principal Joseph’s home.
As the titular tiger, escaped from the zoo, terrorises the town, we learn that the greater terror, the tiger more in need of stilling, is the depression, confusion and loneliness that each person carries with them.
Pete Foley has delivered an appealing set, in a completely grey-washed living room. Walls, furniture, pictures and plants are all a steely-grey, instantly evoking the numbness of depression. Unfortunately, none of the cast appear to have any relationship to the space they were in, leaving us watching four actors moving around a clever set. It was this lack of relationship that remained the biggest hurdle, throughout the show.
Emma Caldwell (Sherry) plays a general mood of anxiety and social awkwardness. In not allowing herself to step outside of this mood, she removes any opportunity for real engagement or relationship with the people around her. We have a few tiny glimpses of the potential in her interactions with each of the other characters, but it’s not enough to turn a character into a person.
As Sherry’s sister Grace, Samantha Cunningham is the only character with any relationship to the space around her, and so feels the most grounded. This is admittedly limited to the couch she spends most of her time on. She also relies on a general mood, which shifts Grace from a tragic figure to someone a little closer to psychotic.
Christopher Welldon (Joseph) seems far too young to be playing a character whose high school sweetheart has children in their mid-twenties. This aside, he obviously has a flair for physical comedy. Sadly, he relies on this a little too heavily, and once again see lost opportunities for honest, human relationships.
For me, the strongest performance came from Rohan Mirchandaney, as Joseph’s son (and Sherry’s patient-come-assistant) Zack. He had the greatest number of believable moments and seemed to honestly react to the people around him, rather than waiting for his turn to deliver a line.
As in Boutique Theatre’s last production, scene changes are problematic. Extended breaks, in blackout, between scenes (plus projections to announce the new scene’s title and American Beauty music) interrupt the action and force the audience out of the story. There were a few issues of believability, such as a mobile phone that everyone owned and nobody carried, that could have easily been avoided and served to further alert the audience to the fiction.
This is a sweet story, beautifully written and an important topic to explore. There are glimmers of what could be a really lovely production – with just a little more work!
Tigers Be Still
Brunswick Mechanics Institute, 270 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
Performance: Wednesday 22 April 2015
Season continues to 2 May 2015
Bookings: 0403 937 529 or online at: www.boutiquetheatre.com.au
For more information, visit: www.boutiquetheatre.com.au for details.
Image: Rohan Mirchandaney and Emma Caldwell – photo by Bodie Strain
Review: Jennifer Piper