The open road, two lovers, and a retro Ford tearing its way across rural Australia. A compelling two-hander focusing on a man with an unclear past and even more uncertain future, and a woman with a definite career and robust reputation burning in the rear-view mirror, Horizon sets itself up as an in-depth and undoubtedly confrontational experience. Amongst depictions of character experiences and diplomatic stances that are absolutely current to our national and political identity, playwright Maxine Mellor chooses to splice in larger-than-life and jarringly poetic expressions of the characters’ subconscious guilt, terrors, and triggers. With equal measures of provocation and disjointed emoting, Playlab’s debut production of Horizon collages a collection of diverse writing styles, a captivating performance duo, and sharp and sophisticated design elements. The end result is a confronting and thought-provoking work that could either, depending on the audience member, promote consideration of pressing ethical and social injustices or simply stun many into confused disbelief.
With a work that depicts and discusses murder, corruption, greed, and exploitations of power across Australia nation-wide, the choice to focus on a young couple, Cole (Sam Foster) and Skye (Ngoc Phan), comes as a welcomed humility. The two dedicated and endearing actors step forth as humble vessels who deliver an otherwise intimidating and confronting collection of stories, traumas, and panic attacks. The show begins with child-like play acting out movie trailers as the couple escapes their messy predicaments to fantasise about their future. This motif repeats itself as a familiar contextualisation technique that we as audience members welcome after each anxiety-loaded peak of conflict or twist in their journey to visit Cole’s father. With Cole’s child-like wonder setting the scene and Skye’s passionate immersion into how he sees their world, Phan and Foster offer us playful tongue-in-cheek melodramatic acting to win us over before we are torn apart.
Despite performances loaded with charm and a cheeky beginning, an underlying sense of dread ensues the moment the pair enters their car and begins their journey. As Skye slowly reveals that, for her, the trip is an escape from the injustices and inconsistencies in her law practice, the relatable rural Australian road trip quickly loses its aura of cheery, open-road freedom. Likewise, Cole’s light-hearted choice to invite his girlfriend on a getaway to visit family soon abandons its allusion to innocent first-times and reveals implications of manipulation, mistrust, and deception. As the two drive further from civilisation, the old car they share their journey in becomes claustrophobic, the landscape becomes vast and overwhelming, and the travellers are set to unravel.
Mellor’s complex text does well to incorporate infamous murder mysteries from Australian history and provide unsettling yet recognizable experiences of sexual harassment, naïve and conflicting dedication to accepting and avoiding childhood trauma, and countless threats to thorny family expectations and legacies. Where the text loses its grasp on the context and formidable grit is when Mellor strays from her realistic well-defined and hard-hitting political and ethical discussions to present an illustration of the characters’ internal monologues and subconscious battles. As if opening up to the core of their inner wars, the choice to remove the characters from the action like a sudden out-of-body experience is in fact as jarring as some of the shocking twists and turns in the plot; however, it feels like this decision loses the tread on the journey towards effective impact, rather than becoming a memorable and creative addition to an otherwise tight script.
With consideration to the diversity of the text and the unrelenting energy and tenacity of the performers, Lawson’s direction opens up yet another raw and straightforward production that paves the way for the creativity and intricate details of design team Guy Webster, David Walters, and Nathan Sibthorpe. With Sibthorpe offering another example of how video design can add unexpected and exciting depth to an already 3-dimensional live experience on stage, Webster’s sound design and Walters’ lighting ground the work in familiar ambience that marry so well, it is as if the dingo howls could be coming from the back of the Visy Theatre and the lights could be shifting from summer heat to eerily cool light breezes when the sun abandons the story.
Overall, Playlab’s production takes an inherently contemporary work loaded with power and provocative depictions and creates an enthralling yet unsettling 90 minutes in the Australian outback with deeply flawed yet complex characters – characters left daunted by their need to face their harrowing pasts and address the uncertainties of their futures, not unlike our own nation at this very moment.
– Written by Rhumer Diball May 27th 2021
HORIZON PRESENTED BY PLAYLAB IN PARTNERSHIP WITH BRISBANE POWERHOUSE
Wed 19 MAY– Sat 29 MAY
Photo credit Justine Walpole and Stephen Henry