Venue: PACT Theatre (Erskineville NSW), Sep 10 – 12, 2015
Playwright: Harry Black
Director: Jess Arthur
Cast: Emma Harvie, Eliza J Scott
Abstraction in theatre can bring tremendous pleasure or great boredom, depending on the kinds of communication that do or do not happen between the stage and its audience. Unlike media such as paintings and sculpture, one is trapped in a seat, unable to simply walk away to a different work. Harry Black’s Unend is entirely abstract, and although elements of reality and points of reference are peppered through, it persists with its sublime incoherence, unafraid to cause alienation. The themes are broad, and characteristically open to interpretation. The work talks about the creative process, and the obstacles to progress. It might also be concerned with the relationship between artist and muse, and the self-jeopardising nature of humanity. Many things can be read into Black’s writing, and it is that vagueness that allows an appreciation of Unend to be a dynamic and involving one.
Adding to the sophistication of the script is Jess Arthur’s direction, which delights in manufacturing a sensual and ghostly beauty (ably materialised by Jeremy Allen’s set and lights, and Gayda de Mesa’s sound) to accompany the free-flowing ideas that occur in the text. Dialogue is relayed with impressive detail, and even though its ephemeral quality evades our instinctive need to rationalise every sentence, we never doubt the truth that is being explored on stage. A solid and palpable chemistry is established early on and stays for the entirety of this two-hander. Emma Harvie’s work is thorough and complex, with motivations that feel powerfully honest. The actor balances an inner authenticity with a robust physical portrayal, to create a character that encourages identification in spite of her many ambiguities. Similarly buoyant is Eliza J Scott’s depiction of an earthy angel, reverberating with conviction and enthusiasm. Her vibrant energy gives grounding to a show that can easily turn impenetrable, and the playfulness she introduces reflects a passion to entertain.
This production of Unend speaks differently to each viewer. It requires intellectual investment on our part, so it follows that passive consumption of the work may not gratify, but if one is able to connect with some of its assertions, a rewarding theatrical experience will emerge. The world is full of mystery, but its participants must find ways to understand their very existence. Like an author with a blank screen, meaning begins with that singular leap of faith.