Venue: ATYP Under The Wharf (Walsh Bay NSW), Feb 5 – 22, 2014
Director: Anthony Skuse
Playwrights: Jory Anast, Jake Brain, Sophie Hardcastle, Tasnim Hossain, Julian Larnach, Zac Linford, Felicity Pickering, Emily Sheehan, Kyle Walmsley, Keir Wilkins
Actors: Airlie Dodds, Darcie Irwin-Simpson, Joel Jackson, Angelica Madeni, Sam Marques, Paul Musemeci, Julia Rorke, Emily Sheehan, Kate Williams
Each year ATYP (Australian Theatre for Young People) brings together 20 young writers aged between 18 and 26 to participate in their National Studio. As part of the week, the writers are given a common theme and each creates a seven minute monologue for a 17 year old actor. Bite Me presents 10 of those scripts, in an unusual format that brings them together, not as a coherent whole, but a visceral entity that stands alone as a singular work of theatre.
The common theme in all the writing is food, but Anthony Skuse’s direction does not rely on that convenience to tie things together into one obvious unit. Instead, he focuses our attention on the actors’ work and design aspects of the production, to create an experience that is dramatic, thrilling, and avant garde. Skuse is acutely aware of the audience’s senses and all the potentialities an empty space holds for addressing them. His respect for actors and all their capacities is evident, and we are given the best sides of all his performers. Along with movement coach Adèle Jeffreys, Bite Me showcases a kind of image driven theatre that wonderfully imagines bodies in spaces, and pushes the boundaries of creativity within a realm of minimalism.
The cast is a young one, and while their standards of performance vary, all are allowed to present their strengths, and an excellent sense of evenness is achieved in terms of stage time. Julia Rorke, in Kyle Walmsley’s Food Baby, is easily the funniest in the ensemble. Her comic timing is natural and gleeful, and her determination in connecting with the audience is irresistible. Paul Musumeci’s performance of Keir Wilkins’ George is beautifully restrained. Like a caged lion, Musumeci exhibits a powerful magnetism, one resulting from a very controlled expression of a certain mysterious intensity that resides in the actor’s being. Jory Anast’s Pip Nat Georgie is performed by Airlie Dodds who delivers, without the aid of makeup and costumes, a memorable depiction of an archetypal young Australian masculine character. Dodds’ feminine appearance provides the perfect juxtaposition for her character, and allows us to see the actor’s interesting work with great clarity.
Set, lighting and sound design are thoughtful and exquisite. Narratives are scarce in Bite Me, but its atmospherics are dynamic and beautiful. This is a great achievement, given the minimalist approach taken by all the technical components. There have been many other showings of short plays that have entertained or titillated more, but this is a production that fascinates and impresses. It is thoroughly original.