There is something oddly satisfying turning peace-loving hippies and those “wholesome” primitivist communes into dark and sinister things. The Commune, written by Gabriel Bergmoser and directed by Ashley Tardy, explores the darker side of commune life, as well as looking into how cults can have scathing insights into modernity and city life.
Straight off the bat, the atmosphere of the play was well done. Club Voltaire and Tardy obviously put a bit of thought into the costumes and sets, because, even though they were minimalistic, they managed to convey effectively the contrast between city and commune life effectively. These ranged from the fisherman’s pants and cotton shirts contrasted with the factory-made pyjamas and jeans, through to the secret pieces of technology hidden in ceramic jars. The quiet sound effects (kookaburra calls mostly, along with “bush” sounds) were subtle but gave an additional character to the performance.
Also, the sulphur smell from the gunshots were a great touch.
The story was a bit slow to start with, and initially didn’t seem creepy so much as just bleak. However, as things progressed it turned into the slow-burn thriller that thankfully didn’t rely on jump scares to impress the audience. Instead, there was just the slow crescendo from the sense that “something wasn’t right” through to “this is really sinister”. This progression felt very natural.
That being said, there were some tried and tired tropes used in the play. The whole “sinister primitivist cults are evil” is a little tired, although there were some interesting takes on it. The characters initially seemed a little dull, and it wasn’t until the primary antagonist was revealed that things really got going. The finale was a little predictable, but the monologues (which occasionally stretched the limits of credulity) really made the play engaging, as they explored a deeper ideological view on modern life as much as they reflected poorly on the primitivist hippies.
Finally, the acting was well done, although there were a few times wen it seemed a little hammy. Of course, hammy acting in this context was not a negative thing – in many ways (ironically) the overly-dramatic moments made the play a little more sinister (think old-school sinister production style with villains that really are twisted and heroes that are suitably tragic). Furthermore, the actors themselves delivered the show very well, despite several rude audience members who left several times to take phone calls. Is it really so much to ask that you turn your phone off before the play?
Overall a solid play, and a nice refreshing take on hippies, even if a little predictable and hammy at times. Cool effects, interesting ideas, and solid, committed performances made for an enjoyable show. And the ending still left the audience fulfilled and impressed, and that makes a slow-burn thriller like The Commune a rewarding play to watch.
The Commune is on at Club Voltaire from 15 – 25 November. Tickets and show information are available from the Bitten By Productions website.