Review: Dead Centre | Sea Wall (Red Stitch Actors Theatre)

redstitchVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Oct 20 – Nov 14, 2015
Playwrights: Tom Holloway, Simon Stephens
Director: Julian Meyrick
Cast: Rosie Lockhart, Ben Prendergast
Image by Jodie Hutchinson

Theatre review
The more we hurt, the more difficult it is to find expression for our internal struggles. We compartmentalise pain, and with time, become more adept at denying their existence, but their effects do not fade. Tom Holloway’s Dead Centre and Simon Stephens’ Sea Wall are two half hour monologues that deal with sorrow and depression. We encounter the protagonists in traumatic states, and see them fumbling through life trying to find a way out of their anguish. Holloway’s piece is vividly descriptive, with evocative fragments that softly, but actively, fire up our imagination. Stephens’ work is equally poetic, but takes a completely different tone. Focussing on the grieving process, he uses the difficulties in articulating painful experiences as a basis for the text, and creates a quiet work that escalates suddenly at the end to deliver a powerful revelation.

The two pieces are presented one after another, but visual elements suggest an entwinement between both stories. Design of the production is understated, but elegant and sensual. Matthew Adey’s lights and Katie Cavanagh’s video projections, along with Ian Moorhead’s sound design, establish an understated but concentrated atmosphere in which the actors offer their very delicate tales. Direction by Julian Meyrick gives a beautiful cohesiveness to the two halves, with a sensitive approach that highlights the similarities between each character’s experiences. We witness the fragility in our humanity, and realise the importance of accepting and understanding the weaker moments of our personal lives.

Rosie Lockhart plays Helen in Dead Centre, fleeing England for Uluru, in search of an answer to her indescribable troubles. The actor’s engaging presence grips us from the start, but it is her ability to communicate a wealth of emotion with a seemingly minimal mode of performance that truly impresses. Helen never tells us what her problems are, but Lockhart leaves us in no doubt about the depth of her torment. Also remarkable are the flashes of humour that emerge, brief but effective, and key to installing a solid connection between actor and audience. Alex in Sea Wall is played by Ben Prendergast, whose portrayal of loss and bewilderment resonates with an intimate familiarity. The evasiveness and fear of sentimentality that he exhibits is a perceptive interpretation of how we deal (or do not deal) with immense emotions, but concluding moments see outbursts of intensity that appear too suddenly, and we question the accuracy of those dramatics.

Catharsis frequently occurs through the artistic process, but not usually at the same degree for all involved. Artists can indulge boundlessly in their excavations of private feelings, but the inspiration brought to their audience must not be ignored. In Dead Centre | Sea Wall, emotions run high, but they tend to stay safely on stage. The poignancies that it imparts are muted, but they are also real. We do not get embroiled too closely with Helen or Alex, but we study them intently and learn about the nature of suffering. The stories are theirs, but the way they help us explain and comprehend life, becomes universal.