Hilariously undignified: Nikki Shiels unravels brilliantly

— REVIEW of ‘The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe” | Sydney Morning Herald

The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe’ | Review

Jason Blake | SMH
25 Jan, 2015

A meta and mind-bending on-stage implosion

Zoey Dawson’s play-within-a playreading is described as a meta-theatrical exercise. How “meta”? Well, for starters, feel free to insert your own inverted commas around pretty much anything in the following paragraph.

The conceit is this. Emerging playwright Zoey Dawson (rendered here in garish tones by actor Nikki Shiels) is about to have the fifth incarnation of her new play aired before an audience. Reading for us this evening are actor pals Matt Hickey and Annie Last and Dawson’s boyfriend Aaron Orzech. Well-known actor Natasha Herbert has kindly agreed to direct a script-in-hand performance on a stage that has recently hosted Griffin Theatre’s production of that pinnacle of popular Australian theatre, Hotel Sorrento.

The play Dawson has been working on reveals itself to be raw, earnest, naive and pretentious. Before long, however, everyone is well and truly off-book as real-life rivalries and insecurities intrude.

Dramaturge and director Delan Greene’s touch is very evident in the production’s mischievous twists, its sarcasm, and in the centrally placed diva antics of Shiels, whose depiction of a writer coming apart at the seams is hilariously undignified. Making great use of her distinctive voice, Herbert provides cool counterpoint as the creative oxygen-sucking professional assigned to the project. Hickey and Orzech nail their bemused namesakes perfectly, and Annie Last’s life-of-the-partaay is almost as monstrous as Dawson/Shiels.

The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe’ is a gleefully damning satire on accepted methods of creative development in the theatre and the experience of young women subject to it. Amid the chaos and the clawing, it makes a sharp point about the artist’s right to fail.

Navel-gazing? Sure, and industry insiders will love it. But even if you have only a glancing interest in what it takes – and takes out of you – to be a playwright, Joe’s blend of deadpan observation and full-blown hysteria makes for an entertaining and unpredictable hour of theatre that takes pleasure in messing with your mind to the end.

“Hilariously undignified: Nikki Shiels unravels brilliantly”