Invisible Atom | 2b theatre company

Invisible Atom | 2b theatre companyPhoto - Nick Rudnicki

A small dark space made even more confined by black curtains opened only a few feet apart. A small square stage. A shaft of bright light. A man caught, not only in the glare, but in the moment.

This is the immediately captivating opening of Invisible Atom, a brisk, self-contained piece of engrossing theatre that makes excellent use of one of my favourite theatrical formats, the one-actor-play. Of course, one-handers like this are open to almost as much variation of genre, tone and technique as any other form of theatre, but one of the most satisfying things about them is that they always rely on a harmony between the material and the actor’s craft, that of dramatic storytelling at its most essential. Indeed, naturalism is probably one of the less common modes for a play of this sort, due to their generally monologic nature, often giving the performer an opportunity to really open up their bag of theatrical tricks.

Such is the case here. Written and performed by Anthony Black, we are treated to a variety of different stage techniques that are diverse without being indulgent, encompassing elements of sleight of hand, mime synched to sound effects, some clever use of lighting, and what could best be described as finger puppetry… but without puppets. Black is a skilled and engaging performer who manages to deftly navigate shifts in style and tone without ever grinding the gears, thoroughly inhabiting his primary character Atom, as well as several others he converses with through simple yet effective changes in voice and physicality. This tale told in the first person is both intriguing and affecting, and despite running only around an hour never feels like less than a complete piece of drama.

This drama, or rather, the narrative itself, however, may not necessarily be to everyone’s taste. Personally I found the yarn a bit depressing despite its comedic moments, although that is not necessarily a bad thing given the threads of tragedy and existential crisis that are at the core of the show’s theme. It is difficult to explain in much detail what the play is about without spoiling the intrigue of watching it carefully unfurl, but it is essentially the tale of an emotionally untethered man trying to discover his heritage and a reason to go on with life, even when you might think the perfectly good reasons of a partner and child should be staring him right in the face.

Atom’s journey takes unexpected twists and turns which lead to surprising discoveries, some darkly humorous, others simply dark. Although I found the ending to be a dissatisfying and somewhat unsettling conclusion to the story, I cannot honestly say that it wasn’t a logical culmination of the play’s bleaker themes and preoccupations. Others may feel differently, perhaps appreciating the show in a more fully-fledged tragic vein. That said, however, the show is nevertheless unfailingly entertaining, and often manages to have a surprisingly light touch for its somewhat heavy subject matter.

Invisible Atom is a compelling, tightly-produced piece of work that makes for a diverting and stimulating short trip to the theatre, or even as a dramatic hors d'oeuvre to whet your appetite for one of the Festival’s various late-night shows afterwards.

Sydney Festival 2011
Invisible Atom
2b theatre company

Venue: Downstairs Theatre | Seymour Centre, Chippendale
Dates: January 24, 25, 27, 29 at 7pm, January 27, 29 at 10pm, January 28 at 4pm, January 30 at 1pm
Duration: 60mins
Tickets: $30
Bookings: Seymour Centre 02 9351 7940

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