REVIEW: Awake

An impressive cast tackle complex issues in difficult scripts

By Adam Tonking

Awake is two short plays, written and directed by Fleur Kilpatrick, about the family dynamic and reactions to mental disorders.

Starring Justin Batchelor, Kristina Benton, Alex Roe, and Joanne Sutton, these tricky stories present families at their most difficult times – when confronted with severe medical conditions befalling a loved one.

The two stories, titled Wonderland and Sandman, approach the theme differently, the first looking at one moment as microcosm for an entire life, the second covering three different characters and their disparate reactions to deterioration over a period of weeks.

The cast were excellent, dealing with these highly emotive situations with complete authenticity. This was especially difficult for Batchelor and Sutton in playing the two characters with the mental disorders – an awkward task for any actor, but Roe and Benton and Batchelor again were equally accomplished in their roles as the family members reacting to their sick relatives.

Their performance success was particularly poignant as the stories seem to be a series of traps for an actor to fall into in throwing unusual medical conditions at the performers, and changing narrative style from moment to moment. At times these plays even seemed more an acting exercise than a piece of theatre.

That said, there were some lovely moments in Kilpatrick’s scripts – I loved the use of the natural landscape as allegory for these situations, and the universal themes of isolation and familial bonds shone through even when confronted with the impact of these unusual disorders.

Music, written by Kristina Benton, is used as a framing device for these two completely independent stories, and while the music itself was quite lovely, it seemed an odd way to connect the two narratives.

Stylistically, the warm gentle music seemed to clash with the stark presentation of the two plays, and seeing the actors play their own Greek chorus by singing these songs was also distracting. But again, the cast held up beautifully under this challenge.

Ultimately, Awake is a virtuosic performance by a brilliant cast of two very promising short plays. It plays at La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond Street Carlton, from Wednesday 21 March till Sunday 1 April at 8.30 pm Wednesday and Friday, 6.30pm Thursday and Saturday, and 4.30pm Sunday. Tickets available at www.lamama.com.au or by calling 03 9347 6142.

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