Extinction | Black Swan State Theatre CompanyLeft – Hannah Day and Matt Dyktynski. Cover – Myles Pollard and Hannah Day. Photo – Gary Marsh

Hannie Rayson is a highly decorated Australian playwright, having collected no fewer than nine awards for her fourteen plays. She has a reputation for setting relationship, particularly family dramas against the backdrop of a topical issue. In Extinction, that issue is environmental sustainability, specifically the fight to protect the Spotted Quoll.

The drama comes from brother and sister, Andy and Heather who have a secret about Andy’s declining health. Andy is a vet who struggles with the choice to keep his secret from Piper, his lover of two years, a zoologist on secondment from America, working for Heather’s environmental research company. By adding a mining executive, Harry to the mix, you may assume he’d be the bad guy. However, Rayson resists this polarity and makes a noticeable effort to ensure that none of the characters read as either completely virtuous or intrinsically bad.

The characters fall, a little frustratingly, into conservative gender stereotypes. There are few surprises to be found in their dramatic arcs. TV hunk Myles Pollard slips easily into the skin of Andy Dixon, the emotionally feeble country vet who handles adversity with stoicism or by drinking his feelings. In contrast, his sister Heather Dixon-Brown, played by Sarah McNeill is of refined voiced and entitled character. These differences, and their chilly attempts at familial intimacy indicate that perhaps they haven’t spent a lot of quality time together as siblings.

Hannah Day joins Black Swan this year as an Emerging Artist and plays Dr Piper Ross. Piper comes across as well intended, despite being naïve to the point of foolhardy. She seems very easily led and allows her relationships to guide her decision making process. Despite this, she is the one character who perpetuates the theme by pursuing environmental protection and the continuance of life with single-minded vehemence.

Mining tycoon Harry Jewell, played by Matt Dyktynski infiltrates the cocoon of each of the others and throws a little poison on the ground. Pleading good intentions and compromise, Jewell proves himself to be persuasive in matters pertaining to more than just business and coal mining.

The constantly expanding and contracting set, designed by Bryan Woltjen, is grey and stark in contrast to the lush bushland, fauna and birdlife the protagonists are trying to protect. Projections on the windows at the back of the stage add another, exterior dimension to the set. As usual, there is no expense spared in the design of this production.

The dialogue tends towards pedantic in areas and there are perhaps moments of conversation that could be replaced with some subtle blocking or intriguing subtext. Despite that, there are some funny moments that are well delivered by the cast.

Extinction runs until October 4 at the Heath Ledger Theatre at the State Theatre.

Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
by Hannie Rayson

Director Stuart Halusz

Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA
Dates: 23 Sept – 4 Oct, 2015
Bookings: 1300 795 012 | www.ticketek.com.au

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