It's a brave actor that takes on a single hander. The challenge of remembering lines, and holding audience's attention alone on stage for an hour and a half is a gargantuan one. But the actor is not alone.
This challenge has to be skillfully and reliably backed up by an equally talented team writing, directing, and designing, managing and coordinating the lighting and sound in particular, with often split second accuracy, to present a complete, involving and credible theatrical experience.
Nathan O'Keefe is one actor who is very much up to this challenge. As the searching, restless, insecure yet daring Clay – the only visible protagonist – he is at once grounded and pragmatic, as well as ethereal and mystical. His performance is a tour de force worthy of the enthusiastic applause with which the capacity opening night audience rewarded him and the invisible supporting team.
From his opening down-to-earth explanation of the geological development of the remarkable limestone coast area of South Australia, to his frantic escape into the light from the dark depths of the the amazing Piccaninnie Ponds, O'Keefe carries us through a shoal of emotions as his character swims through varying episodes of his life and lost relationships.
The poetic and descriptive writing by playwright Caleb Lewis reflects his own struggle with loss, grief and finally triumphing over the darkness of the depths of despair. This gives the narrative a credibility and immediacy, even as it jumps from here to Thailand to Aberdeen and back, and to and from different times, relationships and losses.
The simple set by Kathryn Sproul is a wooden jetty in front of an abstract rocky shape which is sometimes a cliff, sometimes a cave wall deep in the “Cathedral” cavern of Piccaninnie Ponds, on which indeterminate spirits are projected in various memories.
The Director, Shannon Rush, brings it all together with the unseen team of voices off, and the backstage team of Sound Designer/Composer Andrew Howard, Lighting/Video Designer Mark Oakley who add the confronting reality of huge sound, apposite lighting changes and effects.
Even if the writing could feel a bit drawn out and even a little hypnotically soporific in patches, it is a remarkable performance in an excellent production of a fine new play, which is destined to be special, not only for South Australia, but beyond.
State Theatre Company of SA and Arts SA in association with Flinders University present
by Caleb Lewis
Director Shannon Rush
Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Dates: 6 – 21 May 2022