Venue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 11 – 21, 2015
Playwright: John Patrick Shanley
Director: Michael Dean
Cast: Michael Drysdale, Jasper Garner-Gore, Alixandra Kupcik, Jess Loudon, Bali Padda
Philosophy and theatre are bosom buddies. Theatre means little without an attitude that is intent on questioning the nature of things, and philosophy becomes significantly more meaningful when brought to flesh beyond the realm of ink and paper. John Patrick Shanley’s The Big Funk looks at life with wonderment and passion. The writer’s words are powerful and his ideas are exciting, with an abstraction at its core that disallows narrative and simple logic from diluting its sophisticated concepts. The play positions itself outside of real life, examining it at a distance, always extricating itself when it becomes too involved in drama and emotions. There is a great deal of intellectualism to enjoy, but what a viewer can garner here, as is for every piece of complex work of art, depends largely on their own worldview and mental capacities.
Michael Dean’s direction adds a playful dimension to the piece, with an eagerness for creating a lively theatre that locates all the physical and interactive potentialities in Shanley’s writing, turning a cerebral text into an effervescent stage experience. Dean does well at introducing some elucidation to the often convoluted existential reflections of characters in The Big Funk, but much of their rumination remains out of reach. Original thought is rarely easy, and we should probably not expect to be able to absorb everything from a single encounter of a dense script, especially when presented at a jaunty pace. Nevertheless, moments of resonance occur throughout the production, and although inconsistent, they are often effective and poignant.
Performances are thoughtful and well-crafted, with excellent chemistry between all members of cast. Alixandra Kupcik is memorable for her vulnerability, and Jasper Garner-Gore for his exuberant and authentic presence, but both are to be lauded for their extremely confident approach to their prolonged sequences of nudity at Sydney’s most intimate venue. Annabel Blackman does solid work as designer, with a set that does very much with very little, and elegant costuming that helps with characterisations and storytelling. Lights and sound, however, do not contribute sufficiently to manufacturing ambience that would live up to the extravagant surrealism and absurdity of contexts being explored.
We live in a world filled with uncertainty and angst, but life is how we choose to interpret and understand it, and in The Big Funk, we are encouraged to reflect upon the way we think about our environment and how we interact with it. It is important that life has a sense of meaning, and Shanley is right in saying that each person should determine their own relationship with their own existence, without the burden of inheritance and baggage. There is a way to make rules and to establish codes from one’s own consciousness, to provide guidance for our days on this earth but it is the ambiguous and tricky hazard of the human conscience that we need to be mindful of.