The Perfect Circle is a brand new musical and a work of considerable scope and ambition. It’s one thing to write and stage a new work but it’s even better if you’re consciously striving to achieve something original, which is what Craig Wood and Nicholas King do here. There are occasional echoes of other musicals but The Perfect Circle is clearly grappling with questions of what a musical can be in this cynical age and what a modern Australian musical should be.
There are some classic moments – the heartfelt duet of lovers, the farcical sniping of a married couple, ghostly singers who comfort the living – but also novel moments like a hitchhiker singing to the driver who’s picked her up, and a song about optimism fading as the singer makes fruitless phone calls to real estate agents. There’s an attempt to use an Australian vernacular and sense of humour and then to translate that into song. It doesn’t always happen – with an occasional line like ‘now my head’s on the block’ sticking out, or a word like ‘chagrin’ spoken by someone who doesn’t seem like they’d use it – but, on the whole, The Perfect Circle is very warm and natural. The characters are recognisable and unpretentious.
The first of four interwoven stories deals with a loner, Jones (Nicholas King), who picks up a troubled 17-year-old hitchhiker (Lauren O’Keefe). They strike up an unlikely friendship as Jones drives them through the night. The girl slowly starts to trust him. Jones, meanwhile, has a story of his own. He grew up hard and somehow, as an adult, holds himself at a distance from life. In the girl he finds a friend who makes him re-examine his approach. At first it seems the girl’s character has been written as a stereotypical teenager – self-absorbed, zany, a bit sullen – but she emerges as much more interesting. This is not because of what is revealed of her back story, which is a bit unnecessay, but because of the sheer strength of her personality. The relationship between Jones and the girl is intriguing and the duet they sing when they’ve decided to open up their hearts to each other is gentle and moving, the more so because it’s unexpected (to the characters but also stylistically). Nicholas King makes Jones a sympathetic figure, while Lauren O’Keefe, a charismatic young performer, comes into her own as the girl finds her equilibrium.
The next story, about a mismatched married couple, is performed by Nicole Simms and Craig Wood. The husband seems to love only his wife and birds (he’s an ornithologist), while the wife paints badly and longs to escape to Paris. As the husband’s idea of a get-away is a week at his mother’s place, they’re clearly headed for trouble. While ‘the end of love’ is a compelling theme and a bold choice, there are a few moments that are not entirely successful from a narrative perspective. Because there’s not much plot development between the initial comic bickering and the latter nostalgic heartbreak, it almost seems the couple breaks up because they have different taste in hobbies. This is a small point, and could be rectified by giving the story more room to breathe. The tremendous drama of these songs, helped along here by the skill and range of Simms and Wood as singers, make these scenes memorable. The comic bickering is particularly fun with these confident performers: they know exactly how to time a deadpan aside for maximum effect.
Skipping forward, the fourth story is about a harried waitress (Charlea Edwards) and the happy-go-lucky customer (Chris Hamley) she’s developed a crush on. Lighter than the other storylines and full of richly comic moments – the opening number, “It’s Important to Smile,” being a highlight – this story is about unrequited love. It’s high melodrama in a mundane setting, which makes for an amusing juxtaposition. Charlea Edwards is very funny as a waitress who hates all her customers but one. Her monologues reveal her as sharp-tongued and quick-witted, but when she encounters the object of her affection she becomes a stammering fool, for which she then castigates herself.
It’s a nice set-up, and even better is the fact that her love is a rather ordinary chap, save for his unusual cheerfulness. She loves him without really knowing him, of course, while he goes through life aglow with unwarranted self-belief – and then they both come smack up against reality… or so it seems. Edwards and Hamley are an impressive duo, their energy and verve bringing these roles alive. The only fault to be found here is, again, a slight difficulty with tonal shifts. The waitress is sometimes lovelorn in a way that seems too grand, too conventionally articulated, for the person that she is. We need to know more about what she sees in her love to understand the depth of her passion.
The third story is the simplest, concerning a Young Man (Scott Farrow) waiting outside his father’s hospital room. The straightforward nature of this narrative, and the convincing details – he brings a football and a newspaper, he knows exactly how many days he’s been waiting for his father to die – makes for compelling drama. The father (Colin Dean) is lying unconscious for most of the story, so that this piece becomes really a soliloquy. We see a man trying to come to terms with his father’s death and with his own mortality. Scott Farrow has the emotional range and musical delicacy to do justice to this scenario. This story feels true and heartfelt and concludes with a spine-tingling finale that pulls together threads from the other storylines, finishing The Perfect Circle with a unified moment. Wood’s talents as a first class composer are affirmed in this stunning finale.
While a change like dropping one of the four stories, or increasing the length of the show overall, would allow each individual storyline more room to develop, it’s impossible to not be impressed by what has been achieved here. The Perfect Circle is a remarkable work of tremendous power and humanity.
The Perfect Circle
A New Musical
Music by Craig M Wood | Lyrics & Book by Nicholas King & Craig M Wood
Venue: Mt Nelson Theatre Studio | Hobart College, Olinda Grove, Mt Nelson
Dates: February 11 - 13 @ 8pm
Matinee: Feb 13 @ 2pm
Tickets: $22 Adults, $17 Concession
Bookings: Centertainment 6234 5998 | www.centertainment.com.au