A View of Concrete | Flaming LocomotiveLeft - Melanie Munt and Brendan Ewing. Cover - Brendan Ewing. Photos - Sabrina Wong

The Blue Room Theatre has been known to fancy itself as a purveyor of controversy, as with much of the current Perth theatre scene – over-enamoured with blood and Perspex and being contrary – or so it seems. I have of late found myself longing for the visual simplicity, verbal poetry and razor sharp humanity implicit in the kind of theatre that originally seduced me and still has me turning its tricks. This week, I was given a glimpse and a tantalising taste of it by Flaming Locomotive’s new production of A View of Concrete.

This is a play about isolation, but then, perhaps every play is a play about isolation. It’s a big word – maybe an all-encompassing concept. Literary figures from Hamlet to Holden Caulfield, from Baudelaire to Baudrillard have been centralised in the discomfort of disconnect since, well, probably since what Jacques Lacan would call the mirror stage: the moment we realised that we are separate from the universe. 

Camus’ Meursault felt it standing on a beach and band The Cure knew what he meant.  Tennessee Williams’ Tom Wingfield felt it standing outside his mother’s house. Here, in A View of Concrete, characters faced with a world 60 years further from hope feel it in the midst of the deafening cacophony of their own unheeded voices.

In a city dark and without stars, James (Brendan Ewing) and girlfriend Jacquie (Melanie Munt), friend Billy (Anna Brockway) and drug dealer Neil (James Helm) are locked in a struggle to be understood, to find some sort of communion. But they cannot seem to communicate.

James is obsessed with television and spying on his apparent terrorist neighbour and Jacquie is too afraid to tell him that she is sexually excited by the violence she detects inside him.  Anorexic Billy is preoccupied with becoming a fairy and disappearing inside her jacaranda tree and Neil sits up all night, dispensing speed and voraciously reading books he refuses to either finish or know the names of. All these relationships are fueled by ennui and drug abuse and we wonder whether the love that the characters share will eventually allow them to be honest.

On Matthew McVeigh’s simple set and under Kyle Bockmann’s stark lights, the cast is strong and Joe Lui’s soundscape is jarring. Ewing is well-pitched (and masterfully coiffed) as the twitchy, paranoid James and Helm’s Neil achieves impressive balance between the diamond edged narcotics distributor, the momentary vulnerability he shows Billy and the despair inherent in his desperate consumption of anonymous information. Anna Brockway is superbly paradoxical as the intuitive child-woman Billy, so consumed by her own delusions in the face of her apparent intelligence, and Munt’s Jacquie’s hope is beautifully tangible in the face of dystopia, and her speed-fueled rants defy human necessity for breath.

Alan Girod does well in his professional directorial debut with these seasoned performers, for the most part effectively complimenting playwright Gareth Ellis’s vision of disenfranchisement. It must be said that at some moments the drug use depicted is so pervasive that it becomes more of the sickness than the symptom, but for all that, this beautifully worded and intensely human drama is predominantly well realised. I found it refreshing and poignant, and it’s well worth a look.

Blue Room and Flaming Locomotive present
A View of Concrete
by Gareth Ellis

Directed by Alan Girod

Venue: The Blue Room Theatre
Dates: April 22 to May 9
Tickets: Full $25 / Conc. $17; Blue Room Members Full $20 / Conc. $15
Visit: http://www.blueroom.org.au/viewofconcrete

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