akAA productions Amel B. Kenza’s latest play, Ticket of Leave revolves around a trio of women convicts from London, Manchester and Dublin caught in a time loop, and their encounter with an Australian post-apocalyptic-day artist, Claudia (H. Clare Callow). The Victorian women are confined to Sydney’s Hyde Street barracks while they each wait hopefully for the papers which will allow them some freedoms in the new colony. Regina is excited by the impending marriage of her son on the morrow, Orla dreams of romance while Queenie is more pragmatic in her visions for the future.

The strongest aspects of the play involve the dynamics between these three historical characters. Direction (by Bruce Langdon) gives them a lovely unity at times, especially when they’re confronted by the painter from another era, Claudia, who is mysteriously drawn to the barracks – she (and we) are not sure whether this is due to artistic or survival impulses or a mixture of both. Lucy Norton as Regina, Karla Silvey as Orla and Kristina Benton as Queenie maintain their regional accents beautifully although this is tested sorely in the last, entirely unnecessary, scene where the three actors swap characters. The play touts itself as a ‘deadly game of trickery chance and possession’. Of what, we’re not clear so, although we’re invited to feel that ‘stakes are high’ (only one of the many clichés in a woefully pretentious text), the play’s central driving arc is convoluted and ever shifting. Is it about the desertification of the continent? Whatever, we don’t care because the human stories aren’t developed, and the work loses itself up its own bottom through its attempted cleverness.

Kenza can write but this play amounts to a matter of style over substance. The work is way, way too long, and the writer has lost control of her material. Also there are weird little details in the script, for example Orla saying she hopes the skies will be ‘emerald’ for the following day’s wedding. Victorian women of any class would not have talked about ‘having sex’, a modernism, nor would they be likely to have baldly referred to another woman as a ‘prostitute’; ‘lady of the night’, perhaps. Playwriting teacher Peta Murray used to warn her writing students against having characters make cups of tea on stage as it’s such a tired, tired activity, yet this is what every scene in Ticket of Leave seems to revolve around. Callow’s character is unnecessarily antagonistic and unlikeable, and the tension between her and the three historical characters is contrived and pointless. In other words, the core dramatic conflict, such as it is, doesn’t arise from anything genuine in the respective personalities on stage or their situations. There's a story in here somewhere but in its attempts to be impressive Ticket of Leave simply loses the plot.

akAA productions presents
Ticket of Leave
by Amel B. Kenza

Directed by Bruce Langdon

Venue: The Owl and the Pussycat, 34 Swan Street, Richmond VIC
Dates: 21 May – 1 June 2014
Times: Wed – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 6pm
Tickets: $25 – $20                                            
Bookings: www.owlandcat.com.au | (03) 9421 3020

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