Wake in Fright

Malthouse Theatre Wake in Fright Zahra Newman - photo by Pia JohnsonAussies love a good yarn, almost as much as they love a drink. Wake in Fright – a beautiful, horrific, hallucinatory masterpiece – provides both in abundance.

Adapted by Declan Greene from the novel by Kenneth Cook, the play takes broad strides into some dark territory in the heart of the Australian landscape. There’s blood soaked into the ground and even though some things can’t be seen doesn’t mean they’re easy to escape. Zahra Newman starts with a tragic image before stepping back a few days to weave the disturbing story of the downward spiral that gets us there.

But the work to unsettle the audience has begun before then. As we’re taking our seats, a drunk possibly poisoned mascot bear impresses itself upon its guests, reminding everyone that a fourth wall isn’t the same as a safety barrier. Zahra kicks things off casually with some banter, reassuring us that the piece will start shortly – as if the unsettling mood hasn’t already begun pooling at our feet, rising even before the story proper.

Because horror isn’t the same as a jump scare, nor is a synonym for nausea. Horror is an emotional reaction and one wonderfully built up here from the moment we walk into the space until a final mournful spotlight.

Zahra is a magnificent storyteller and would no doubt be the first to say her performance doesn’t exist in a vacuum. James Paul’s if-not-brooding-then-belligerent sound design, Verity Hampson’s incredible projections and lighting design as if Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers were adapted for the stage, backed up by a strong crew lead by Stage Manager, Cecily Rabey – it all coalesces to make for a gloriously visceral night at the theatre.

Wake in Fright
Beckett Theatre – The Coopers Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Friday 28 June 2019 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 14 July 2019
Information and Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au

Image: Zahra Newman – photo by Pia Johnson

Review: David Collins