Natalie, Toby, and Teresa, want their Mum to tidy her house. She doesn’t seem to throw anything away and things are piling up. With the help of Teresa’s husband, Paul, the kids stage an intervention of sorts by way of a misguided birthday surprise. Mum has different ideas, however, in this amusing comedy that explores what might happen when the tenets of Marie Kondo meets the determination of a hoarder.
Isabel Hudson’s set is striking – in its pre-show, as you regard its covered bulk, the reveal, as the titanic cloth drops, of household items and shapes, built and stacked high, is like a demented domestic game of Tetris gone wrong. With each turn of the revolve on the Fairfax Studio stage, the story shifts locations and time frames, and isolates and focuses on the actors as required.
Unfortunately, not everything that played on the stage worked. Playwright Benjamin Law is an experienced writer, but there was a “first play” feel about the script. Most of the characters were a little stereotypical and uninspired, and some scenes (such as the fantastical game show bit – with unnecessary audience interaction – added nothing to the show except to its running time) didn’t comfortably fit.
Psychologically, too, the characters remained mostly unchallenged. The show seemed to sacrifice any real attempt to dig into Mum’s hoarding, let alone dealing with a late reveal confirming a mental illness. The final tableaux was certainly a touching image for the final blackout to fall on, but you hope there’s still more conversations with Mum that will be had.
Charles Wu gave a fun performance as Toby with excellent comic timing, whether arguing with his family, or hilariously demonstrating that he may have watched Mulan one too many times. Michelle Lim Davidson was delightful in the role of Natalie – taking what first appeared to be a superficial, Instagram filtered cartoon and instead grounded the character, giving her a strong sense of heart and loyalty.
As much as the play is an ensemble piece, it’s the character of Teresa that drives (and keeps driving) the main clean-up storyline, and Fiona Choi played her splendidly, particularly when Teresa’s enthusiasm quickly becomes frustration and the tension builds ever higher in the house.
Max Brown portrayed the blokey-bloke-ness of Paul well, but – whether it was the character’s accent or not – it was a performance that belonged in another play. Too often a sweet moment between Paul and Teresa, or others in the house, was broken by Paul’s unconvincing John Wayne-esque drawl.
Diana Lin was wonderful in her role as Mum. Of all the characters on stage, she must cover the most territory in terms of cunning, humour and tragedy, which Diana weaved together in an entertaining and moving fashion. Its spark may have sputtered in places, but Torch the Place had more than enough joy to share around.
Torch the Place
Fairfax Studio – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Friday 14 February 2020 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 21 March 2020
Information and Bookings: www.mtc.com.au
Image: Diana Lin and Michele Lim Davidson feature in Torch the Place – photo by Jeff Busby
Review: David Collins