Oceans All Boiled Into Sky | Serious Theatre

Have you ever had something important to do, and the night before was full of strange dreams - a playback of snapshots of what happened during the day? Then the dream had by Oceans Boiled Into Sky’s lead character Mack Finch surely was from watching B-grade sci-fi flicks and Fox News the night before taking his driving test. The resulting journey leads from the ‘peace and safety’ of the Dickson Motor Registry to a post-apocalyptic Canberra. Along for the ride in the Mitsubishi Starwagon is the audience, whose smiles and quizzical looks are prompted by expressive cast members and an overall quirky production.

Oceans Boiled Into Sky is a sci-fi black comedy, a 75-minute single act described in publicity as a ‘road-trip coming of age story.’ I’d describe it more of a realisation of consciousness, as we can’t escape our subconscious, it’s hiding in the steam and just when you think it has lifted, it just rains back down - the things we try to block, the other person you want to be.

Oceans Boiled Into Sky is not an A to B story, but one from E to T with bits of C thrown in. The play works well for a Canberra audience who would get the in-jokes and could picture giant creatures lurking about in the fog of Tuggeranong Parkway.

As soon as the yellow doors open on The Street Theatre’s, ‘Street Two’, the atmosphere is set for the unexpected. The wisp of steam fog floats above couches, chairs, crochet rugs and puzzles to create an intimate lounge atmosphere fronted by five microphones with a background of sheer fabric shrouding Black Mountain Tower and outlines of boiling rocks. 

The set provided context to what playwright David Finnigan describes Oceans Boiled into Sky as a ‘post-apocalyptic Canberra somewhere in the distant future-past’. Huh? Well, exactly. Though, this confusion is what can be entertaining if you let yourself be taken along for the ride in the 1983 Mitsubishi Starwagon with 3 and a half characters. Half, because one is a ghost. The others are a Fox News-type newsreader with a split personality of a drill sergeant, a peculiar charismatic media-gigolo and a gangly teenage boy haunted by an unrequited love interest - the prim and proper chess starlet.

The characters begin their journey from a cave after being issued a mission by a priest (the Thatcheresque Hanna Cormick) to save the human race. Guerrilla fighters - tough Gwen Macklin and slick Honest Jon - are to be driven to ‘The Black Mountain’ via the Tuggeranong Parkway by ring-in driver, bewildered Mack Finch. Along the way, they must play cassette music to motivate them to fight off nasty steam creatures, one of whom they must eventually capture. Making sense? Not really, but that’s not the point. The characters switch between who they are and who they want to be, eventually finding the truth. 

This diverse range of personalities and the complete bizarreness of the story comes from the highly creative mind of Finnigan, who was recently named the tied winner of the second heat of the Canberra leg of the 2008 Poetry Slam competition. The play itself was nominated in 2006 for the Max Afford Award, a national playwriting competition. He has worked on the script since 2005 and has recently brought it to the current iteration with director Barb Bennet who makes the most of the small space and embraces the constraints, by considering every minimal movement made by the actors, such as facial expressions and stances.

Overall each character was expressive and clear, bringing movement to a static situation whereby they flawlessly spoke their lines from a fixed place non-stop for 75 minutes. The furrowed brow and awkward stance of Mack Finch was exactly how gangly teenage boys angle themselves around girls, so that it adds to the cringe moments of chat-up lines involving 'sh**house teachers’ and ‘parties that are sooo gay’.

The staunch bulldog pose by Gwen Malkin (Chris Lloyd) behind the microphone was an entire presence of stubbornness as she played ‘the strong one’ so common in road-trip storylines, switching seamlessly in her split role of documentary journalist to fearless commando.

As a balance to the seriousness was the deftly played Honest Jon by Raoul Craemer with his pretty-boy preening and suaveness; the equivalent of Fonzie from Happy Days combing his hair just so after levelling a baddie. He delivered the witty muddling lines with winsome charm that roused giggles and chuckles from the audience.

Maybe Lloyd Allison-Young as Mack Finch has really had an out-of-Canberra-Toto moment before, because he was just as contorted with confusion and fear as one could be - face twisted in worry and hands shaking in clenched fists as he drove the mighty Starwagon to their destiny, and his Ps.

Virginia Savage
- the Board Game girl - intercepted the story in mysterious voice flashes until becoming her near-real character of a repressed goody-two-shoes teen weary with worldly expectations of her conquering the chess tournament circuit. Holding character in prim poses and sarcastic eye-rolling, she was believable as a teenage girl trying to deal with the inanity of teenage boys.

The nature of the production being in a form of radio play of course means that sounds and music play a significant role. The sound effects such as water dripping added atmosphere and context to the character’s location, while the music served to break the single stream of consciousness into steps up towards Black Mountain. Warwick Lynch and ANU School of Music Composition students compiled the effects and added pieces of composed music from Erika Ikenouchi whose funky beats, bleeps and beeps cause disconnection between real self and expected self. However, the noise got confusing at times with the music being too loud to hear the voice altering tunnel tools. 

Gillian Schwab, who also did the set design, continued the multi-sense effects with the lighting design, which was very effective using different colours to show altered modes of the duel personalities/states of mind and provided visual context with the frantic screen sketches flashing from the projector onto a sliver of stage screen.

The highlights of the play were the well-acted one liners from Honest Jon and the part where Mack Finch cringed his way through chatting up Board Game Girl - the script so true to life it seemed lifted from an eavesdropping outside McDonalds on a Friday night.

While I had a smile on my face or quizzical look for most of the time, I felt the fast pace slacken around three quarters before reaching the climax, then the closely followed end. The confusion of each character’s purpose was a bit brain-draining. But then so too can be a Shakespeare play with all the Bottoms and Pucks and Oberons lurking about with their respective motives. Just go along for the ride in the sexy Starwagon and enjoy the groove of the funky music and frenetic scripting with the quirky Canberran characters.

Serious Theatre presents
Oceans All Boiled Into Sky
by David Finnigan

Venue: Street Theatre, cnr Childers st & University ave
Dates/Times: 7.30pm, 26 – 29 November
Tickets: $20 adult / $15 conc
Bookings: (02) 6247 1223 | www.thestreet.org.au

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