Sleepy Head | Upstart ProductionsAfter cutting its teeth in Melbourne last year, the gothic thriller Sleepyhead by WA playwright Nathaniel Moncrieff, and directed by Garreth Bradshaw, has just enjoyed a sold out season at The Blue Room as part of the 2012 WA Fringe Festival.

The performances by the two lead actresses Amy Murray (Eleanor) and Louise Cocks (Genevieve) were both mature and brave. They had a complex relationship to portray, but capably showed us how they loved, resented and depended upon each other.

In a supporting role as the father Tom, Alex Jones presented well as a drunken, grief stricken widower completely lost after the death of his wife. The girls’ mother apparently suicided after sustaining burns in a fire which he may or may not have started, the plot is unclear. The mother appears as a manifestation of Genevieve’s desire for comfort, masked and silent to represent her spirit only.

Adam Shuttleworth, who acts as stage crew for the majority of the show, makes a cameo appearance as the police officer, and exudes a warm persona and genuine concern for the girls who he finds left alone after their father’s disappearance.

Toward the conclusion of the play there is another cameo appearance by Kirsty Marillier as Polly, the dishevelled victim of the “dangerous man” whom the policeman had warned Ellie and Genevieve about. Refusing to be put off by the warning or the strange girl’s obvious trauma, Ellie goes off to meet a “boyfriend” she knows only from strange, late night phone calls and, we assume, her fateful death.

To comment on both the play itself and the direction of it, I make the observation that there are many elements around which the audience is left to make their own conclusions. The first instance is the ambiguous relationship between the father and his eldest daughter. It seemed, at times, that the drunken man displayed a degree of lust for his child and that Ellie swayed between playing up to it and rebelling abusively. As the play went on, it became apparent that there was no plot significance in whether there was or wasn’t an incestuous relationship at all, so one wonders why the ambiguity was included.

The other big mystery is the identity of the “dangerous man” that is on the loose. Once the father has left the house (for good it seems), and the girls are visited by the local cop, my first thought was that the predator was the father. Even at the end of the play, the possibility of that being true was still there.

Regardless of the plot ambiguities, and trying to decide what elements really mattered to the outcome, the actors did a great job to maintain engagement. The lighting and sound were atmospheric and the use of the scrim for shadow acting and scenic ambience was very well done.

Upstart Theatre Company present
by Nathaniel Moncrieff

Directed by Garreth Bradshaw

Venue: The Blue Room Theatre | 53 James Street, Northbridge, Perth
Dates: 6 – 10 Feb, 2012

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