Venue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 3 – 14, 2014
Writer: Dominic Witkop
Director: Garreth Cruikshank
Cast: Chris Miller, Kayla Stanton, Matt Thomson
Image by Geoff Sirmai
There are very dark themes in Dominic Witkop’s Out Of Fear, with murder and destruction in the family unit serving as inspiration. The writer explores masculine anxiety in a heavily surreal world that calls to mind David Lynch’s Lost Highway and its own Jekyll & Hyde references. Witkop’s narrative structure also borrows elements from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, such as its unusual take on the love triangle dynamic between two men and a femme fatale. The script is a brave attempt at something left of centre and while it does not avoid feeling derivative at times, it is certainly not run-of-the-mill. Witkop’s mise en scène is innovative, but the text requires further editing. A flair for words is only one of the aspects a playwright needs, and Out Of Fear lacks a greater theatricality in terms of the physicality and temporal dimensions of a live performance.
Direction of the work by Garreth Cruikshank aims to create a sense of conventional storytelling, with an emphasis on realism in character portrayal and development. This contradicts Witkop’s writing style, and misses the opportunity for a more visceral approach to performance. The people look like they exist in our world, but they speak as though from dreamland, with coherence proving a challenge. Surrealist theatre has evolved its own traditions and embellishments, but they are negated on this occasion, except for lighting design that attempts to add a more dramatic dimension to proceedings. Also dramatic is Chris Miller’s performance as Travis, whose energy levels are to be admired. The intensity of the role is a highlight of the production, and Miller’s enthusiasm for his character’s mania is fascinating, if a little repetitive. All three characters feel disappointingly distant, but Miller manages to keep us engaged in many of his scenes.
It is noteworthy that the play’s serious social implications do not overwhelm, and it is to the production’s credit that the work retains an experimental edge that prevents it from turning into something generic or melodramatic. On the other hand, a lost message could result in an exercise that feels somewhat inconsequential. Poignancy may elude it, but the work contains gravity, ambition and an earnestness that gives it a quiet lustre.