The performances wring a sense of deep discomfort from the incommensurability of religion and non-belief.
Like a Fishbone | Review
On Melbourne’s independent theatre scene, performance can spring up in the weirdest places. Like A Fishbone, from UK playwright Anthony Weigh, is being put on in an abandoned food court in the Docklands.
It’s part of MKA’s Hyprtxt Festival, a program of underground works from a group of theatre mavericks dedicated to supporting new writing for the stage.
Weigh’s three-hander springs from a strange encounter, although the clash of cultures and ideas is all too familiar. An act of terrorism has been committed in a small, devoutly religious town. Many children have died. A large architecture firm has been employed to design a public memorial, in consultation with the local community.
On the eve of a public presentation, a blind, grieving mother (Jean Goodwin) arrives at the offices of the architect (Emma Hall), determined to be heard. An awkward and increasingly heated stand-off ensues, as the architect’s sunny intern (Alice Cavanagh) hovers in the background.
The play itself comes across as the product of a talent that is still developing elementary aspects of the craft. There’s a rat-a-tat-tat feel to some of the dialogue. The themes aren’t always in service to the drama, with characters often used as heavy-handed mouthpieces.
But the production has its moments. The performances, as directed by Alice Darling, wring a sense of deep discomfort from the incommensurability of religion and non-belief.
Hall’s high-powered architect has all the right politics, but the portrayal is tinged with enough defensive arrogance and professional condescension to give Goodwin’s zealotry the leverage it needs. And Cavanagh provides understated comic relief as the underling with foot-in-mouth disease.
Jacob Battista’s set is clever, with blackboards of detailed architectural drawings and liberal use of scale models (including one of a postmodern building that looks suspiciously like a laterally inverted crucifix), and the abandoned, soulless air of the Docklands proves a fitting backdrop to the play’s exploration of faith and architecture.