Sci-fi on stage full of dark foreboding
By Caitlin McGrane
Dystopian futures have traditionally been the domain of Australian film: it’s rare to see the richly constructed dramatic landscapes from Mad Max recreated on stage. Red Stitch‘s current production The Way Out is one such example, directed by Penny Harpham and with an impressively layered script written by Josephine Collins that tells the story of a dystopian Australia. Shortly after a civil war when the land has been contaminated and there’s only krill to eat, Helen (Brigid Gallacher) and her veteran father Stewart (Dion Mills) own a pub in Margo selling bootleg booze to Aussie battlers Ryan (Kevin Hofbauer) and Claire (Olga Makeeva). They are visited by a government inspector, Fyfe (the always impressive Rory Kelly) on the same day as their black-market goods peddler Harry (Sahil Saluja), throwing their quietly subversive life into chaos and opening the door just a little too much into the past.
As the story unfolds, there’s a great sense of foreboding that casts a shadow over the rest of the play. A character coughs or Helen and Stewart recite their family motto, and you know it’s going to be important later. Each character is drawn with care and consideration, with nearly equal attention paid to all, and it’s impressive to watch that unfurl in a way that for the most part maintains its clarity and coherence.
The story itself seemed unusual to me for a stage play, but this worked to the play’s advantage because it enhanced my enjoyment of watching the cast working together as a team, as people (presumably) would need to in the event of a dystopian sci-fi-esque future.
With a running time of roughly 90 minutes, there is a lot to pack in, and I found the pacing towards the end to be slightly uneven. The characters had to do a lot of the scaffolding through the words of the script, and it would have been interesting in places to have a little more ‘show’ and a little less ‘tell’. It seemed to me the denouement felt slightly rushed; I had to clarify on the way home whether I had understood the play’s ending. That said, my attention was held throughout, and despite the larger story playing out just beyond the doors of the pub, I was engrossed by how this was being represented on stage.
The stage itself was tiny, and I was thoroughly impressed with the utilitarian staging (Liberty Gilbert and Natalie Lim), sets and costumes (Charlotte Lane) that brought the play’s ideas into physical being. Lighting design (Clare Springett and Michael Robinson) and sound (Daniel Nixon) were crafted to enhance the drama unfolding on stage. I love seeing Red Stitch plays because they feel like real labours of love, and like everyone has chipped in to bring this thing to an audience.
Maybe I’m being optimistic, but for me this idea of cooperation was also reflected in the way Helen looked after each character and tried to work together with everyone. The Way Out made me hopeful that if the worst were to happen, we might still be okay as a species.
22 August – 24 September (previews 22 – 29 August)
Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda
Image by Teresa Nobile Photography