Standover Man is an ideal fit for Perth Theatre Trust and Subiaco Arts Centre's inaugural Independent Theatre Festival; the festival is focused on giving previously staged works new life in a new venue to help independent theatre creatives reach new audiences. Local playwright, director and performer Jessica Messenger has taken advantage of the opportunity to have another chance to stage one of her recent works, and she's taken it as her cue to significantly rewrite and re-stage Standover Man.
The show saw its first run at Fringe World 2013, and apparently was quite different from its current incarnation which has slightly different characters, a new team of performers, and a streamlined script. This is part of what's really exciting about the Independent Theatre Festival – a year later, artists can go back to a successful work and extend its life considerably. This can only benefit the artists development, and is an invaluable opportunity to hone one's craft in a town where devised independent shows tend to get produced then shelved in favor of the next project.
That being said, there's a lot of valuable work in Messenger's Standover Man, and the script holds a lot of interesting ideas that see some compelling staging. There are trouble spots, specifically in the exposition and backstory; there is a sequence of overlapping monologues delivered by the piece's two supernatural characters which is intended to provide a bit of a set-up, but because of the way this sequence is structured tends to confuse matters and puts a stumbling block into the story's path. Once the plot regains its footing and moves back into the 'show, don't tell' mode, it finds good pace again.
Messenger has built some really nice partner scenes into the piece. Laura Hopwood (Rosalind) and Nick Maclaine (Pete) have considerable chemistry and natural ease as scene partners; their characters' budding relationship plays out nicely as these two actors take time to listen to each other's words and read each other's cues. The same goes for Esther Longhurst (The Kid) and Mario Piccoli (Pope) – the kitchen table breakfast scene is quite funny as these two characters gently spar with each other about their true natures.
Special praise to Ms. Longhurst for her character work, which sees the actor wholly transform her physicality and speech to play the part; I would have difficulty recognising Longhurst on the street with only the stage persona to go on. Maclaine is very suited to this particular role, as his unflinching, matter-of-fact, cold efficiency as The Accountant/Pete is not dissimilar to Kyle MacLachlan's Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks.
The set design is simple but gives a good feel for the milieu; the tight space is used well and creatively, as are the lights, although some of the opening scenes were too under-lit for my liking, and a hand-held torch pointing towards me caused some distraction in one scene, as did some sound cue fumbles.
The strength of this play lies in Messenger's dialogue and the four central characters she's written. It showcases her wry sense of humor and an innate understanding of what makes truthful relationships between offbeat characters interesting. The show plays for two more nights at Subiaco Arts Centre, and will hopefully see further development and another incarnation down the track.
Stained Glass Robot and Ellandar Productions present
THE STANDOVER MAN
by Jessica Messenger
Directed by Jessica Messenger
Venue: Studio | Subiaco Arts Centre WA
Dates/Times: 7.30pm, 26 – 29 March, 2014
Tickets: All tickets $25*
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012 | ticketek.com.au
Part of the inaugural Independent Theatre Festival