Review: Flame Trees (Tunks Productions)

tunksVenue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jun 15 – Jul 2, 2016
Playwright: Wayne Tunks
Director: Simeon Yialeloglou
Cast: Ryan Bown, Karina Bracken, Rebecca Clay, Isabel Dickson, Jace Pickard, Wayne Tunks
Image by Isobel Markus-Dunworth

Theatre review (of a preview performance)
Wayne Tunks’ Flame Trees is a lot like soap opera. Its characters are highly emotional, and all their families get entangled in the melodrama, which involve moral conflict, infidelity and bushfires. Unlike the most popular tv shows of the genre however, we do not have years of history with the personalities of Flame Trees, and consequently, their grievances are of little concern to us. Causing further alienation is the lack of authenticity that comes from the play’s desperation to arrive at heightened emotion without first engaging us appropriately with the high stakes that it sets up for itself. The script is unoriginal, and hollow where it attempts to induce passion, but is thankfully fast-paced in getting to its conclusion.

Staging of the work is appropriately cheesy, with every creative decision going with the conventional and obvious. Actors put on unnatural voices and indulge in extravagant eruptions of passion and anger, in service of a narrative that is devoid of depth and often unbearably silly. The cast shows conviction nevertheless, and is fairly well-rehearsed, with Rebecca Clay leaving a good impression by finding nuance in her role despite its inherent incoherences.

Emotion must emerge from meaning, and it is a storyteller’s responsibility to locate resonance with the audience. A work can achieve a lot with its surfaces, but without truth at its foundation, big gestures on the exterior will only appear pretentious and absurd. Going to the theatre is a sacred event for communities to share and connect. Commerce will no doubt be a part of its equation, but it must never be the overriding factor, or our participation will only leave us empty and resentful. Theatre is not the idiot box, and the audience deserves much better.