Love, death and the magic of the theatre in wistful, otherworldly then, then.

Jonathan Walls & Nicholas Surges in then, then. - photo by Jonathan Harvey
Jonathan Walls & Nicholas Surges in then, then. – photo by Jonathan Harvey

A community theatre becomes more than an artistic refuge in Messy Kween Collective’s premiere of Kyle Capstick’s then, then. – directed by Evan Harkai and running at Majlis Art Garden (163 Walnut Avenue).

Part indoors/part outdoors, Majlis Art Garden is a magical place all on its own – and it’s been transformed into a community theatre space for then, then., with audience placed along two sides of the playing area (onstage and off) and the house tented along the sides with white silky fabric, reminiscent of a parachute, and a protective tarp above. The sounds of Billie Holiday fill the space during the pre-show, as our eyes adjust to the fading natural light around us.

As then, then. unfolds, a rehearsal for a new play about a pair of star-crossed lovers becomes a backdrop for personal exploration and revelations as the players practice their craft and explore their inner demons and desires amidst the intermittent, menacing noise of aircraft above. The vintage pop music and sounds of planes overhead (identified as “friendly” or “enemy”), coupled with the costuming (40s for the actors within the play, using Elizabethan costumes for the play they’re rehearsing) give a WWII flavour, but there’s an otherworldly, alternate universe quality to the play that defies time and place. The effect is a curious combination of disorienting and fascinating, and places the focus on the characters, and their memories and responses to events they witness and in which they participate.

Lovely work from the cast in this raw, visceral work – each tapping into his/her vulnerability to bring heart-on-sleeve emotions to the fore. As the company’s director Jack, Jamie Johnson gives a kind, gentle performance; extremely protective of the group, especially his young nephew and ward Brian, Jack soldiers on despite feeling his age as he struggles with his own fears – of safety and of being too old for love. Madeleine Brown is adorably rambunctious as the bright, imaginative, plane-loving Brian; he notices and understands things beyond his years, and reveals them with the earnest frankness of a child. Karie Richards gives a compelling performance as Miriam, a woman of a certain age, and intimidating in her seriousness and professionalism; possessing of a quick, wry wit, she doesn’t suffer fools (or ingenues) gladly, and she has the haunted edge of loss about her, concealing a big heart. Is it just her youth she mourns or is there something else?

Michelle Lewis is lovely as the ingenue Abigail; playful, even coquettish, she is a girl on the verge of womanhood, full of spunk and longing, with an enormous curiosity about love and death. As the young male lead Chris, Jonathan Walls brings a great sense of inner conflict and frustration; undone over a stage kiss that misses the mark, he struggles with a heaviness he can’t put his finger on – and one gets the feeling that he’ll jump out of his skin if he can’t sort things out. As Paul, Nicholas Surges gives us a nuanced performance as a young man who takes in a lot as he watches from the wings; he feels much and uses his sharp, mocking sense of humour to cover his feelings – and it appears he’s secretly in love with one of his colleagues.

With shouts to the designers: Johnny Cann (sound and lighting) and Lindsay Dagger Junkin (costumes) for their beautiful work in creating this world.

Love, death and the magic of the theatre as a company of players mines emotion to uncover individual tragedies in the wistful, otherworldly then, then.

then, then. continues at Majlis Art Garden until September 27; click here for advance tickets.

Photography by Jonathan Harvey

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