I predict that when we look back at The Blue Room’s output for 2014, we’ll say that Giving Up the Ghosts was one of the year’s best. Perhaps this is a bold call, given that we’re only halfway through the year, but one I’ll stand by without reservation. It’s got all the right elements; a beautiful, loving, naturalistic script, written by first-time playwright Sarah Young, a skilled director, Joe Lui, and two gifted performers, Georgia King and Paul Grabovac. It’s hard to imagine that this combination of artists could do anything less than excellent, so it’s just a matter of sitting back and letting them tell you this story.
Based on an actual event in the UK of two strangers who met on the internet in order to commit suicide together, the play’s premise would seem to have us weeping in our seats, or at the very least have us in for a hard slog through some dark emotional terrain. But what Sarah Young, in this her debut play, writes is thoughtful, tender, and funny. It’s full of realistic exchanges between the two characters as they inadvertently develop an unlikely connection at the very end of their young lives. It is heart-wrenching, though, and we do land on moments that are deeply poignant which delve into the couple’s reasons for killing themselves. Their motivations are defined clearly through working out their back story in conversation, however there’s no specific revelation, per se. We just get a sense of the general malaise that these two real people might have been feeling in the lead-up to their deaths. It’s a malaise that permeates their whole lives the way the gas eventually does in their deaths.
Joe Lui’s direction is also very sensitive and careful. This is a bit of a departure for Lui, as his pieces are usually devised and have a political bent. He’s done a wonderful job of creating a series of loaded moments, and he has given his actors space to breathe, listen to each other, watch each other, connect with each other. As a musician, he would be aware of tempo and the power of rests, crescendos, all of which he has built into the the action. He lets his actors pause where they naturally need to, and in so doing allows the audience also to reflect and plug into the emotional journey.
Paul Grabovac’s Steve is everyman. His spot-on embodiment of the typical Aussie truckie is subtly shaded; he comes on scene with relative optimism that makes us wonder why on earth he’s the type of guy who would want to kill himself. He appears to be a gentle giant, with great potential to make a good life for himself, but as we go along, Paul reveals the darker side of his character, and at last we discover the center of the problem when he says, “this is all I’ll ever be.” He sees no potential in himself, and that is enough to make him give up.
The role of Ruth is also a bit of a departure for Georgia King, who tends to be cast as a slightly twisted, bitchy character. Here she’s twisted, but no bitch; she plays a shy neurotic with a sweetness that’s unearthed through her dealings with her partner in suicide. The piece begins with her building to a crescendo of nervous energy that comes to a head when Grabovac enters. Throughout the piece, her nervousness ebbs and flows, but at one of the more pastoral movements of piece, she is visibly calmer and relaxed, and we see that beautiful potential in her character’s soul that makes her later demise so sad.
Lui’s playing triple-threat as director and sound and lighting designer, and Sarah Chirichilli is the set and costume designer. The set is simple, with a couple of car seats and a tree painted on the back wall, and dried leaves scattered along the floor, which also become props. The feeling is autumnal, with also a sunset palette that’s warm and enveloping.
This is a wonderful piece, and a wonderful reminder that each and every human is filled with potential, even if we only get to see it in one final, definitive act.
The Blue Room Theatre and Owl Productions present
Giving Up The Ghosts
by Sarah Young
Directed by Joe Lui
Venue: The Blue Room Theatre | 53 James Street, Northbridge
Dates: June 24 – July 12, 2014