Review: FLAME TREES at Theatreworks

Glowing moments show much potential

By Myron My

Flame Trees deals with the return of a young woman, Tess Ashley, (played by co-producer Hannah Gott) six years after she was convicted of starting a bushfire which killed her best friend. Clearly not everyone is happy to see her and there are still a few secrets that have been kept after all this time.

Wayne Tunks’ script is beautifully written with some honest and real dialogue that has you feeling not like you are watching a play but as if eavesdropping on some private conversations.

Flame Trees

Yet with so much work put into creating the tension and suspense of the first half, it was quite disappointing that during the second this all dissolved when it should have been heightened. The problem was trying to resolve a lot of stories in a short amount of time and this resulted in characters having to change their earlier strongly-held convictions within a matter of minutes. Without giving too much away, I really struggled for example to see how Val (Sally McLean) could so easily and quickly come to change her mind – an issue with the script, not the performer.

However, there was still a very strong performance by James Mason as the local fire-fighter hero Matt Sutton. Mason works hard to clearly define relationships with all the other characters and the scenes with his brother (Matthew Candeland) have a sense of authenticity to them. Wayne Tunks’ portrayal of Nathan, Tess’ older autistic brother, is well-researched and articulate. It’s always admirable to see actors who portray people with additional needs as a person and not as a generalisation.

The stage was divided into three sections: a police station, a living room and a pub. They were simply designed and were used to support the scene rather than control it, thus allowing the actors to tell us the story. Lighting designer Siobhain Geaney has worked hard at creating the subtle changes to the mood, from having fluorescent light in the police station to give the scene more harshness and using a hanging lightbulb to create a warmer feel in the pub scenes.

The world premiere of Flame Trees is definitely a display of great Aussie theatre but with a little bit more fine tuning in the second half could have been much more special.

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda

Season: Until 16 March | 8:00pm, Sun 5:00pm

Tickets: $29 Full | $25 Conc

Bookings: 9534 3388 or http://www.theatreworks.org.au

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