Venue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Mar 19 – 22, 2014
Director: Zach Beavon-Collin
Playwright: Ian Wilding
Actors: Nick Welsh, Alexander Richmond, Melissa McShane, Geneva Gilmour, Alex Magowan, Meg McLellan
Ian Wilding’s fantastical script is action-packed, funny, and satirical. Its influences are genre film and popular television, which makes it a natural choice for the young theatre makers at University of Sydney. Using the western and zombie genres, and taking inspiration from the Australian adversarial political system, Wilding creates a strange bygone world in which everything seems to be an analogy for the state of our world today.
The Sydney University Dramatic Society’s production is as playful as the script allows. Zach Beavon-Collin’s direction makes lovely use of the atmospherics, greatly assisted by lighting and music design, and indulges heavily in the gory details of all the zombie action. His work will be remembered for blood and pus that overtakes the stage for a good half of the show, which is unfortunate for the actors whose performances are subsumed by the theme park quality of the experience.
The cast is a committed one, but the humour of Wilding’s writing proves to be challenging. Alex Magowan is an exception, leaving an impression with consistently effective comedy. His portrayal of Gunner as an overblown caricature is exaggeratedly brash but a very welcome presence to scenes in the first act that tend to be lacking in energy. Meg McLellan is another supporting actor who shines in each of her appearances. She plays Rodney with a sense of precision, and provides an authenticity that sets her apart as being the most polished of the group. Alexander Richmond is strongest of the leads. His Dr Littlewood takes some time to develop, but in zombie form, the actor is impressive (and repulsive).
As mentioned before, some of the technical elements and music are crucial to the more successful aspects of this production. Josie Gibson’s original score is an accomplished one and often steals the show. Lighting designer Chrysanti Chandra works with minimal facilities, but does well to manufacture a lushness in the show’s moodier sections. These artists might be young and hungry for experience, but they prove themselves to be anything but a bunch of quacks.