Wild, unorthodox, and often hilarious theatre

— REVIEW of ‘The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe” | The Age

The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe’ | Review

Cameron Woodhead | The Age
9 Oct, 2012

ONE of the unwritten rules for emerging playwrights is: ”Do not write a play about your relationship breakdown.” Now that adolescence seems to last until 30, I can’t tell you how often this sensible guideline is disregarded, or how much spotty and overwrought romantic angst sneaks onto our smaller stages because of it.

In The Unspoken Word Is ”Joe”, Zoey Dawson doesn’t break the rule so much as bludgeon it to death and take liberties with the corpse. Sound alarming? It kind of is. But it’s also funny and raw and true, partly because of its scintillating use of postmodern technique.

Dawson reaches deeply into meta-theatrical terrain. The play is a ”play-reading” of a work by ”Zoey Dawson”, based on a failed relationship. It seethes with tragicomic irony, and the way it superimposes the earnestness (and immaturity) of the theatre world with the jejune histrionics and humiliating abjection of youthful heartbreak manages to do justice to both.

The show has attracted a cabal of high-powered young theatremakers and the dynamos at MKA have produced it with typical elan.

Declan Greene’s dramaturgy has taken a shaggy beast of a script and refocused its emotional core. His direction brings out vibrant performances, and demonstrates sensitivity to the strengths of the post-dramatic form, maintaining its mischievousness and the impression that all artifice leads to sincerity without, say, resorting to glitter raining from on high.

But it is Nikki Shiels’ performance as the afflicted young playwright that steals the show. It’s a tour de force from one of our most promising young actresses.

Rippling with expressiveness and confusion, visceral lust and insecurity, Shiels slyly invokes the subtle pressures brought to bear on emerging women theatre artists, and more impressively, creates a sense that the turmoil of young love, however ridiculous it appears, is a delicate thing that might only be revealed truly when it is half-celebrated and half-mocked.

Annie Last’s electric caricature as ”fun girl” captures a peculiar kind of nutty extroversion that had me snorting with laughter. The two male characters (Aaron Orzech and Matt Hickey) prove understated comic foils in a show that rides high on the ineffable qualities of female experience.

Wild, unorthodox, and often hilarious theatre, this is my pick of the Fringe so far.

“Wild, unorthodox, and often hilarious theatre”