This full-length production from Melbourne Writers Theatre is an ambitious work. The Stairs are Moving, written and directed by Neil Triffett, relies solely on text to move the story along. The themes Triffett tackles in this work: awareness of one's personal responsibility for one's own psyche in the light of a complicated and exploitative upbringing, are explored with a boldly imaginative approach.
A brother and a sister come together for their aunt's funeral. Aunt Petunia (played by Carolyn Masson) turns out to have been the siblings' guardian after the demise of their parents. Keeping the aunt's house is her tightly-wound companion, Tulip (winsomely played by Charlotte Nicdao), who acts out her anxiety by obssessing over details which nearly consume her. Sarah Plummer plays the sister, Marjory, and Maurice Mammoliti, the brother, Dmitri. Triffett's characters are complex and believable, suffering from very human ambivalence. They struggle to survive in a gothic surreal world fed by an undercurrent of magic realism, a world which ultimately collapses upon itself.
Vivid and extraordinary images are scattered amongst the text which glitters with detail. This is just as well, as the characters tell you what has happened and what is happening, a reversal of the golden rule of 'show don't tell'. Unfortunately, this device palls and the play suffers under the weight of its own ambition. Dramatic tension exists in words only, rather than between the bodies on stage. The audience becomes desperate for the actors to do something, to react to each other. Monologues give way to dialogues yet still these lack dynamism as we are told what the characters think and feel rather than see them express it. The audience isn't given any space to work things out for themselves. A balance where some of the story is told but other parts acted out would have served the play much better. There are the occasional questionable sentences too, such as 'a vague shadow of my reflection' - do reflections have shadows?
The play balances light and dark effectively with moments of bizarre humour to relieve its torrid emotional tenor; the scene where two elderly harpies, like Marge's sisters from the Simpons, try to molest Dmitri, is especially funny.
Melbourne Writers Theatre presents
The Stairs are Moving
by Neil Triffett
Venue: La Mama Courthouse, Carlton VIC
Dates: Oct 24 - Nov 4, 2012
Times: Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat 8:00pm, Sun 2:30 pm