James awakens in a cryonics facility, stepping out into an empty room, the calm computer voice instructing him to wait for a technician who never arrives. Other chambers of the freezer gradually discharge their occupants, each reacting in their own way to the baffling situation and adding their own pieces of information to the puzzle. Eventually an employee of the clinic steps out, a researcher undergoing the process for experimental purposes. Dr Ettinger recognises each of the patients, and establishes that they are a few hundred years past their expected thaw dates. Utilising the group’s combined skills, she breaks out of the locked room and leads a search party to see what has happened in the outside world, while the remaining patients take time to learn each other’s stories.
Stephen B. Platt’s script enables the ensemble cast to interweave their various stories together. From James’ shameful secret to John’s Christmas fixation, the strident indignation of Hedy to the fearfully traumatised Tara, the characters each have their own distinctive point. The character of Matt is given a bit more depth, the contradictory aspects of the role neatly leading to a surprising sting in the tale’s conclusion, while Dr Ettinger is revealed to be more comprehensively coldly logical than expected. While Platt peppers the dialogue with details about changes in society, with witty asides about things that fail to change (“Newspapers still existed in 2044?!” “Rupert Murdoch was still around in 2044… bits of him, anyway”), he never overwhelms with too much detail of future events and details. Platt directs his script to its key strength, which lays in the compelling human interest hooks in the stories of each of the contrasting roles, holding audience attention as compelling drama as well as intelligent speculative concept.
Evocative and believable set design by John King keeps the scenario intact and supports the premise throughout. Sarah Bond’s lighting design ranges from the spectacular displays of the Thermal Awakener to subtle cues about failing power levels in the clinic, impressive and useful parts of the production.
As an ensemble, all performers work well together, allowing proper weight and timing to various revelations. Aaron Jay takes the potential of Matt’s ambiguities and delivers a strongly developed role. Nicola Brescianini is pitch perfect with the careful precision of Paula’s personality, and matter of fact about a missing limb, while Clare Talbot allows Tara’s pent up trauma to escape in realistic outbursts. Dean Lovatt has a great stage presence as James, resolutely hiding his dark secrets, while Jason Dohle is enjoyable to watch as John lives in a world of perpetual Christmas, possibly the most troubled yet most carefree of all the patients. Anna Weir makes the most of the repetitious nature of her role as Hedy, striking enough discord on stage to emphasise the sudden twist at the end. Tara Hoban has the gravitas for her assumed authority as Dr Ettinger, but disconcertingly seems to deliver all her lines with her eyes shut. Whether this is her personal habit or a directed instruction, it is an oddly distracting detail that seems surplus to dramatic requirements.
Despite some small unevenness in presentation, overall the tightly written script and consistent directorial tone impress and it is hoped that Platt will continue to develop his skills on the page as well as behind the scenes.
Thought Jar Productions presents
Thaw: A Science Fiction Play
by Stephen B. Platt
Venue: Nexus Theatre | Murdoch University, 90 South Street, Murdoch, WA
Dates: 27 – 30 January 2016
Part of Perth FringeWorld 2016