Review: The Block Universe (Or So It Goes) (The Old 505 Theatre / Cross Pollinate Productions)

crosspollinateVenue: Old 505 Theatre @ 5 Eliza St (Newtown NSW), Jun 6 – 25, 2016
Playwright: Sam O’Sullivan
Director: Dominic Mercer
Cast: Briallen Clarke, Jacob Warner
Image by Kate Williams

Theatre review
Andrew the philosopher tells his love story the only way he knows how. He believes that our time in the world is predetermined, and that our past does not simply disappear but exists in a different realm. He tries to access history to relive happier times, but finds his intellectual idealism unable to provide the comfort he requires. Sam O’Sullivan’s The Block Universe is about a man’s heartache, and his fascination with time. The play takes the thematic opportunity to build upon itself a thoroughly interesting structure, based on Andrew’s theories of determinism, for an unusual plot trajectory that depicts time in an unconventional manner. The boy-meets-girl story that it contains is however, nothing out of the ordinary, and although charming in its mundanity, is insufficiently dramatic for us to engage more deeply with Andrew’s anguish.

The play is directed with an understated elegance by Dominic Mercer, who brings surprising clarity to the text’s philosophical interests. Isabel Hudson’s work on set design is thoughtful and artistic, providing ease of functionality to actors and evocative symbolism to the audience. Further visual sophistication comes from lighting designer Alex Berlage, who creates a large number of scene transitions and a wide range of atmospheric manipulations with little resource other than sheer ingenuity. Equally accomplished is Alistair Wallace’s work on sound that guides us through the play’s complicated timeline with a penetrating sensitivity that accompanies its auditory dynamism.

The stars of the show are its captivating actors, both charismatic, and thoroughly authentic with what they present. Playing Andrew is Jacob Warner, vulnerable and truthful in every moment, with a subtlety that draws us in but delightfully energetic in his stage presence. Briallen Clarke impresses with a performance full of nuance and intensity, while maintaining excellent humour in her very vibrant interpretation of Kristiina. The duo’s chemistry, and the timing that results, is flawless and the relationship they portray is utterly believable.

Our emotions are shielded from Andrew’s heartache in The Block Universe. We see him crumbling before our eyes, but the play prevents us from responding with feelings, choosing instead to elicit an analytical acknowledgement of his pain. Indeed, philosophy and analysis can often ease our suffering, and the transference from heart to brain, can be an effective means to dealing with loss and mourning, but as demonstrated by Andrew’s experience, the solution is only temporary. There is no escaping the fact that matters of the heart need to be treated at the origin of their hurt, and Andrew will not be able to think himself out of his troubles. If we refuse to address the real issues that eat at us, we will be trapped in a perpetual cycle of agony, obstructed from resolution and emancipation, blocked from salvation and peace.