Have you ever felt like watching something that is essentially 1984 meets The Hunger Games via The Government Inspector set in Australia? Then The Way Out, directed by Penny Harpham and written by Josephine Collins, manages to combine all three of these different plays into one, and creates an atmospheric, character-driven play. While not perfect, it nonetheless makes for an enjoyable night out.
Plus, dystopian Australian fiction is always cool (think Mad Max).
Straight off the bat, the acting was very well done. Everyone brought their characters out very well – the grizzled veteran who is trying to make things right by his daughter yet is corrupted, the old “witch” woman who knows more than she should and is loyal to a fault, the sleazy black marketer who flogs off anything he can, the fresh-faced, inner city ARC inspector who is ruthless yet fragile, and of course the young and hopeful Helen. The actors convey the emotions well, which of course made the one or two minor slip ups very noticeable.
The play’s props and costumes bring it to life. The attention to detail was very well done, ranging from the constant smoke in the background (that somehow managed to stay there for the most part), through to the mood lighting and bar setting. The soundtrack was very well chosen, with a constant presence during the play that was subtle and helped increase tension, with the occasional jump to add emphasis to the action onstage. The costumes were also well chosen, and really added to the actor’s depiction of each character – for example, the new inspector’s clean, crisp suit, or Helen’s dusty overalls.
The one problem was that the writing didn’t always feel quite right. What was written was very well done – the speeches felt authentic, and the banter did not feel forced at all. The plot itself was, for the most part, easy to follow and neither too simple nor overly convoluted – and the ability of Collins to write tension was very well done. And the interplay between comedic moments and serious matter was well handled, with the darker elements not being overly dramatic or cliched, while the comedy was handled well and wasn’t forced. It was more in what was absent that the story started to falter – the mother figure seemed both important yet curiously absent in the dialogue, and the off-screen assault of the inspector felt poorly explained.
Still, the speeches were gold. There were plenty of meta-moments, where the audience could either be moved to laughter (such as in the not-so-subtle digs at politics in Australia today), or to philosophical pondering (such as the black marketeer’s discussion of his “two worlds” theory, which referenced both the world on the stage and the world we inhabit in Melbourne right now). In either case, the monologues were well-written, as was the dialogue between characters (especially around the government inspector, who nailed his character).
Overall, The Way Out makes for an enjoyable evening out. Although there are some elements of the writing that detract slightly from the overall performance, and minor mistakes that are noticeable due to the highly polished nature of the play, it is nevertheless something worth seeing. The atmosphere and setting alone make it worthwhile.
The Way Out is at Red Stitch Theatre until 24 September. For more information or to buy tickets, head to the Red Stitch website.