Fewer Emergencies marks a break in tradition for theatre company Elbow Room in that it is the first time they have performed a play not created within the company. With tight performances and minimal set design, it packs a punch; I think Irish playwright Martin Crimp would be happy with this production.
An hour in length, Fewer Emergencies is three acts looking at dysfunctional lives. It's all pretty straightforward – a husband, wife and child and their regrets; a mass murderer at a school shooting; and the same couple in the first act, later in life, at the edge of the world with their distant son trapped in a dire situation they cannot help him out of.
It's a disturbing trio of stories not told in a traditional story-telling way. The psyche is given voice here – or voices – so that the dialogue is not simply the dialogue that the actors speak but also the dialogue of the mind. The stories unfold in lyrical layers so that from the start the audience is engaged, and you wonder what, exactly, is going on here. Possibly it's an exploration of how much of what we say is actually how much is going on.
All is not well in the worlds of our tight-knit team of characters, played by Dean Cartmel, Emily Tomlins, Edwina Samuels and artistic director Marcel Dorney. The dialogue overlaps and repeats to create a dream-like quality. In the school shooting act, it's a brutal dream. We get into the mind of the shooter, and as you'd expect, it's a troubled mind. This act was played mostly in darkness, and there was an explosive vibe in the air. Amazing what you can achieve with a good actor, a few boxes and a torch. Although dream-like, it felt very real and quite harrowing. It appeared to be a time after the event, as though he was re-enacting the shooting and being interrogated by psychiatrists.
The third act was quite surreal, unexpectedly amusing with its strange musical interludes, and quietly disturbing. In fact that applies to the whole play.
I'm not sure I completely understood exactly what was going on. But that's the appeal of this kind of theatre; it stays with you. It haunts you the way good theatre should.
Elbow Room presents
by Martin Crimp
Directed by Marcel Dorney
Venue: The Owl & The Pussycat | 34 Swan St Richmond (opposite Richmond Station)
Dates: 16 – 31 August, 2013
Times: Tuesday – Saturday 7.30pm, Sundays 5.30pm
Tickets: $25 – $20