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Published September 13, 2018

Hell’s Canyon is definitely well-suited to premiere on RUOK Day, and is a strong representation of how tragedy impacts on people’s lives. Well written and produced, it is enjoyable and a good way to start a conversation about dealing with some truly awful things in life.

Although minimal in presentation (two actors and a techie), it is not minimal in impact.

Photo credit: James John

The acting was superb. Although there were only two actors (Conor Leach and Isabelle Ford), they brought everything to life in the script so well. Even though it was the opening night, there were no slip ups or stuttering – just clean acting that made you forget it was a show. They both brought their broken and sad characters to life, and managed to convey sympathy to characters that were pretty awful to each other. From humour to pathos, and from semi-mystical hallucinations to adolescent banter, they nailed each emotional moment.

The dialogue was good, and flowed naturally – a testimony to the excellent writing and acting. The writing itself was not too bad – it felt a little odd at times from a plot perspective, but considering the play was more of an emotional exploratory journey instead of a plot-driven affair, this can be excused. The writer did manage to convey teenage banter very well, although this did clash somewhat with the poetic monologues somewhat.

But the mix of humour and tragedy was handled well, which is something not a lot of plays do well.

Photo credit: Jack Dixon Gunn

Production-wise the play was well handled. Minimal sets can be tricky to pull off, and often rely on clever use of lighting and costumes, as well as prop placement and good acting, to transport the audience along for the emotional journey. Fortunately, Hell’s Canyon manages to convey this very well – the props and sets were handled well, and the sound and lighting technician was highly competent at setting the mood, which was beneficial considering the heavy nature of the content.

The only issue was the scene changes – everything was done with the actors themselves, which was OK, except when they dragged on a few seconds too long and broke the audience out of the emotional moment. But outside of that, everything was very well handled.

Photo credit: Jack Dixon Gunn

Overall, a strong play that was well acted and produced, although with some plot areas that felt a bit hazy. However, these were made up by poetic dialogue and monologues, and the other qualities of the play. Hell’s Canyon was a perfect fit for RUOK day, and a great way to start my Melbourne Fringe Festival run.

Hell’s Canyon is at Melbourne Fringe Festival until 23 September 2018. Tickets start from $20; for more information and to buy tickets, head to the Melbourne Fringe Festival website.

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