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theatre review: ‘at the water’s edge’

Photo: Sarah Walker

A collection of seven short plays connected by the theme of water. This was the premise of the aptly-titled ReAction Theatre production At the Water’s Edge, which recently showed at St Kilda’s Palais Theatre.  Composed of works penned by Australian and international playwrights, the show featured an eclectic mix of plays, some of which making their world premiere.  Director-producer Louise Howlett used the occasion of the Palais’ 85th birthday to present this innovative contemplation on the essential element of water and what interaction with or around it reveals about human emotion.

Howlett assembled a talented cast of nine to bring At the Water’s Edge to life. In a few of the plays, the actors successfully bounced off one-another and engaged the audience through both humour and drama. Having several of the cast members appear in multiple pieces contributed to the grass-roots atmosphere of the production, as audiences got a glimpse into the way in which actors move between stories and characters. I do, however, think At the Water’s Edge would have benefited from featuring fewer plays, or including shorter pieces. I found it challenging to engage with all of the plays showcased over the duration of the performance.

Each of the seven plays in At the Water’s Edge explored a different aspect of life by the water.  Some of these were more compelling than others. While the opening piece, Rebecca Lister’s Sausages was clever and engaging, thanks largely to the enigmatic acting of Lee McClenaghan, David Kemp’s Walking Dead fell a little flat. I found myself struggling to hear the actors on several occasions during this piece, making it difficult to follow the story. Kemp’s play seemed long in duration, compounding its inaccessibility.

Howlett saved the best for last, with Camilla Maxwell’s The Sunburnt Country, the unrivalled highlight of the show. The hilarious story of two Pommy backpackers squabbling over friendships, suntans and boys at the beach had the entire audience in raptures. McClenaghan was joined by Danelle Lee and Lee Beckhurst in this thoroughly enjoyable piece of theatre that successfully drew together the themes of life and relationships by the water that underscored At the Water’s Edge.

The use of space was a major strength of At the Water’s Edge.  The production was performed in the grand foyer of the Palais, with the audience’s unassigned seats arranged in an intimate semi-circle around the set. I enjoyed this laid-back theatre experience that brought me closer to the action than is normally the case when attending the theatre. Reflecting this intimate approach, At the Water’s Edge relied upon organic acting, with Howlett using the floor as a stage and the same, simple backdrop for each play. It is a credit to Howlett to have successfully negotiated such an intimate space for each of the plays.

Uniting seven short plays into one coherent production was a big task to pull off.  Although it didn’t always hit the mark, At the Water’s Edge was an inventive presentation of contemporary theatre that showcased the iconic Palais Theatre and the cutting-edge, grass roots work of ReAction Theatre.

At the Water’s Edge was performed at the Palais Theatre, St Kilda between 14 and 20 November 2012.  See the ReAction Theatre website for more information about forthcoming productions.


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