Crushed | Chester ProductionsLeft – Jeremy Waters, Lucy Miller and Sean Barker. Cover – Lucy Miller. Photos – Ian Barry

Life is made up of a few critical moments separated by a lot of thinking about how we should have responded in them. Melita Rowston's play, Crushed, now playing at New Theatre, explores the struggle of dealing with regrettable decisions when they coincide with a disaster.

Crushed is the story of three school friends reunited 22 years after the disappearance of their mutual friend, SusieSusie's body was never found, but her shirt – that characteristic late 80s 'Poison' shirt – has just been discovered and the case is reopened. Kelly returns from Prague and finds a bed at Jason's house first, then ends up moving to a room in Dazza's pub. Sexual tensions between the three are never resolved, but that pales into insignificance against the doubt over each of the three friends' roles in Susie's disappearance.

Melita Rowston's script cleverly uses one-sided conversations, in the form of police interviews. This is not simply a ploy to keep the cast small, but ensures that the focus is set squarely on the three friends, all of whom, in one way or another, are still trying to come to terms with Susie's disappearance. These conversations are carefully overlapped to both tell the story and develop tension, and although some might find it clumsy, I think it works.

The script is not without its flaws. I found it very distracting that, despite clear references to an Australian setting, there were repeated references to vehicles never sold in Australia, such as Ford's European Granada and its American Pinto. There were a number of these sorts of anomolies which, along with the use of a mannequin to stand in for the missing Susie, amounted to a few minor distractions out of an otherwise very engaging play.

Sean Barker, in the role of Dazza, is handed a very difficult task. His character only just rises above the stereotypical Anglo-Australian beer-guzzling boofhead, and lacks the depth of the other two. Barker handles the character admirably. Despite some flaws in dialogue, he avoids jingoistic ockerism and the character, while a little shallow, is nonetheless engaging.

The play's other two characters reflect a more adept playwright. Their motivations, aspirations and failings are more relatable and their dialogue desperately brash and intimate at the same time. This is a remarkable achievement, and the play succeeds on the back of these carefully crafted characters. They are handled superbly by Lucy Miller and Jeremy Waters (Kelly and Jason respectively).

Eliza McLean's static set is excellent for the quickly changing scenes; it is backed by rope light-covered posts that set the bush scenes brilliantly, especially since the bush scenes haunt the entire play. Richard Whitehouse completes the effect with a sharp lighting design that emphasises the present. I just don't get the mannequin!

It could be said that Crushed is a murder mystery or crime thriller, but that hardly does it justice. Those genres usually avoid characterisation of any depth and often make do with a chronically static setting and plot. Crushed, on the other hand, is all about the characters. Despite Dazza being a little bit two-dimensional, they are on the whole infinitely engaging, wonderfully developed and sensitively portrayed.

Chester Productions
by Melissa Rowston

Directed by Lucinda Gleeson

Venue: New Theatre 542 King Street Newtown
Dates: 16 May – 9 June, 2012
Times: Tuesday - Saturday 8pm, Sunday 5pm
Tickets: $30 – $17. Cheap Tuesdays ('Pay What You Can' $10 min)
Bookings: 1300 13 11 88 |

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