With a title that foregrounds a narrative trope, and then spells it out even more clearly – I must admit, my expectations for Deus Ex Machina were low. So often, young playwrights and new production companies fall back onto writing that is lazily meta, substituting self awareness for substance. That is not the case here.
Tim Long and Mathew Arter star as a writer and an actor trapped by a locked door in a talent agency. Every write up (including the one on the Gasworks website) is rambling and confusing – a worrying sign – but in part it is because the play doesn’t need much more description than a simple statement of its premise. To delve any further is to already begin discussing the production itself, to consider its writing, acting and design.
The script, written by Ben Dowthwaite (who also directed), plunges into existentialism from the beginning, but the words seem weightless. While questions of the meaning of life may be text – the subtext here is about theatre, and its obsession with providing something purposeful. Deus Ex Machina is a clear homage to Waiting for Godot, both in structure and comedic stylings. Dowthwaite knows he is not Beckett, and he knows that his audience does not expect him to be. The writer/director trusts his audience – something that a lot of up and coming playwrights are either too forgetful or too afraid to do. At only an hour long, there is no room for sentences that drag (unless they’re there to get a laugh), and the dialogue is designed to build pace and support the actors, rather than forcing the actors to do most of the heavy lifting. This is not to say that Long and Arter don’t pull their weight. On the contrary, both performers work very hard, slipping between emotions, motivations, accents and even characters with purpose. The two have a strange kind of chemistry, flicking between various states of conflict in their characters’ desperate attempts to just know what’s going on.
This is exactly the kind of up and coming talent that should be showcased at a Fringe festival. Clever, funny, and thought provoking, the production was repeat season, having been performed in Shepparton last year. Sadly, the Fringe run of Deus Ex Machina only went for four evenings, and in the somewhat inaccessible timeslot of 10pm. With any luck, the production will be back again shortly.