Review: The Way Things Work (Rock Surfers Theatre Company)

rocksurfersVenue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Nov 5 – 29, 2014
Playwright: Aidan Fennessy
Director: Leland Kean
Actors: Ashley Lyons, Nicholas Papademetriou
Image by Zakarij Kaczmarek

Theatre review
Aidan Fennessy’s The Way Things Work is about betrayal, corruption and greed. It is also about maleness, focusing on its ambitious manifestations that can often be dishonourable and undignified. The six men in Fennessy’s play are deeply flawed, and their stories reveal them for the low lives that people are capable of becoming. Constructed of three acts, each with a different pair of characters in almost entirely separate scenarios, the script is a dynamic one, with carefully plotted points of tension, drama and danger. The narratives in The Way Things Work are thoughtful expressions that reflect its author’s social concerns. It might not be easy to relate to the contexts Fennessy presents, but his acute observations of the human condition allows us to connect with the material at hand.

Direction of the three long scenes by Leland Kean is challenged by the casting of only two actors, Ashley Lyons and Nicholas Papademetriou, who each take on three parts. Kean manages to create enough differentiation between each segment to keep us engaged, but the cast is not always a perfect fit for every set of characters they tackle, resulting in a show that is unevenly realised. Nevertheless, the production’s use of space is accomplished, and the powerful physicality of both players is used effectively to create lively action from the written pages. Both Lyons and Papademetriou have affable presences that endear us to their time on stage, even though what they put on display is fairly alienating. They are particularly compelling as a couple of Greek-Australian brothers in the second act, with charming idiosyncrasies and a brilliant chemistry that delivers some breathtaking scenes of confrontation and savagery.

Kean’s stage design is a strong feature that provides a confident backdrop, with an appealing aesthetic that relates to some of the themes and concepts, but the three pieces of furniture used to create spacial configurations are very pale by comparison. Also unsuccessful is lighting design that seems to lay dormant during each act, and atmosphere becomes lacklustre without sufficient flourishes in illumination to accompany tonal shifts in the story. The space is persistently dimly lit, which can detract from energy levels in plot and performance. The production’s inadequacy on this level is surprising and confounding.

Our sons’ lives are shaped by families, schools, and communities. How they grow up relies on the environment in which they live, and the men that they become is a consequence of the societies we construct. It is tempting to view adults as self-made individuals responsible for all their own choices, but our personal circumstances cannot be divorced from the people who surround us. Men are not all violent and selfish, as the play might suggest, but there is certainly good reason to examine the reasons behind how we behave, if only to gain control of elements that will improve civilisations for the betterment of humankind as a whole. The Way Things Work talks a lot about power, and our system of government is implicit in its discussions. The media portrays many of our leaders as vile and despicable, but we need to take a closer look at what it is that bestows upon them that privilege and sovereignty.

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