It’s a Mad Mad Mad World: Review of Mad March Hare Theatre Company’s Shivered
Mad March Hare Theatre Company is something of a new comer on the Sydney Independent Theatre scene, having been founded in 2011. Philip Ridley’s Shivered (2012) is only the company’s fourth production, but it is something of a gem.
The fractured story is set in the Essex town of Draylingstowe. Young boys, Jack and Ryan, are on the hunt for sewer monsters and aliens. Meanwhile Ryan’s mother entertains flashy carney, Gordy, in an abandoned car factory. Violence, though, is the force that imbues this piece. Jack has seen it all on the internet: chainsaw accidents, mop impalings, Guinness enemas; he’s even watched the video where Ryan’s brother was beheaded by terrorists. The horrors of humanity have become a spectacle, no different from the fabricated freak show Gordy operates in his carnival. Ridley gives a harsh depiction of this new generation: unlimited images at their fingertips and totally desensitized to it all. This doesn’t come without its consequences, though: violence seeps into the characters’ lives, as they both fall victim to and perpetrate crimes against each other. The result is isolation and an inability to face the truth of the horrors that surround them.
The first act is masterful. Ridley gradually introduces us to his cast of quirky characters whilst at the same time developing his theme through a series of temporally jumbled scenes. The pace is tight, and the audience is kept engaged by genuine performances, a striking set and the task of piecing together the fractured timeline. However, the second act struggles to build on the first. We’re introduced to Ryan’s brother and father for the first time, and scenes that were previously reported are now played without adding a great deal to our understanding of the plot. Some gesturing is made towards underlying homosexual issues, but it never bears fruit and remains thematically unintegrated with the rest of the piece. The play doesn’t reach a real resolution. This may well be true to life, as Ryan’s father says, ‘sometimes there is no meaning, there is no closure,’ and while nothing in life may ever be fully resolved it does make for a slightly unsatisfactory finish.
Having said that, MMHTC has hardly put a foot wrong; production designer Benjamin Brockman and director Claudia Barrie have constructed a visually striking set. The space at PACT is large, but to create a tighter space a white, raised box set was built with a ruinous apartment/office setting interior. To get around the multiple scene changes they went with basic LED lighting, washing the white stage with vibrant blues, reds, yellows and greens to indicate different locations. It’s a simple solution, but it made for stunning visuals and a stage that really popped. The real draw-card, though, are the performances.
The entire cast should be congratulated on beautifully, well rounded performances. Libby Fleming, as Ryan’s broken mother Lyn, mapped the torment and eventual unravelling of a parent who has lost a child. Importantly, Fleming solicited a torturous mix of hate and sympathy from her audience as she seamlessly weaved between anguished Lyn and psychologically abusive Lyn. Joseph Del Re played her son, the PTSD riddled Alec. Alec is a soldier recently returned from overseas, unable to adjust, though, almost unwilling to rise to the challenge. Del Re gave us the deep burden of a returned officer, and truly felt like a ticking time-bomb. One could see him struggling with the genuine affection he had for his family as it came into conflict with his overwhelming desire to return to what makes sense. Brendan Miles as Lyn’s innocent yet delusional husband Mikey, fit nicely into the familial mix. Miles captured Mikey’s blissfully ignorant drive to push through the pain, though he reveals a damaged and bumbling father in the process.
Rhonda Doyle plays Evie, the scamming ‘medium’ and morbidly obese mother to Jack. Doyle showed Evie to be the self-absorbed yet hopelessly flawed mother, to the serious detriment of her son (especially in the Second Act). Andrew Johnston was effortlessly charming as Gordy the fairground Carney. Johnson had a particularly infectious energy that consistently drew the audience, making it all the more devastating to watch him during the second half (we won’t spoil it).
However, the stand outs for the evening were Josh Anderson and Liam Nunan, as Ryan and Jack respectively. Nunan is an incredibly versatile actor. His characters are always flawlessly polished and the layers are intricately wrought. Jack was no different. Nunan presented us with an ultimately juvenile yet scarily sadistic product of the constant violence we expose our children to. Every time the audience began to feel for him and his situation (Jack is constantly beaten up by a gang) he would, quick as a flash, show us his morbidly curious and rather sick side. Here, the canvas is always so rich. Anderson is not to be forgotten however, as he is just as excellent in the role of Ryan. Anderson has a particularly difficult job to do. Ryan is most certainly still a kid, though he is made to face some truly terrible realities. In terms of character arcs, this is rather hard to do well, as it is open to caricature. Yet Anderson uses just the right amount of subtly in order to inject a world of conflict into Ryan’s otherwise tiny but broken life, and it is truly heartbreaking. This is acting at its finest – two great leads, heading up a fantastic cast.
There have been a couple of wonderful independent shows this year. The Old Fitz has revitalized itself and over at the New Theatre Rain was as good as it gets, but Shivered and Mad March Hare have put together a show that can mix it with the best, in regard to design, vision and performance. Not to be missed.
Shivered is playing at PACT Theatre until the 30th of May. For more information see: http://www.madmarchtheatreco.com/#!shivered/ctze