This 40 minute play staged at the Phoenix Theatre in Hamilton Hill was directed and adapted by Cody Fullbrook who most memorably played the titular character in The Brain From Planet X a couple of years ago. I was not familiar with the source material, a children’s book by Gary Crew. The story focuses on a seaside family where blind boy Christopher (James Matthews) appears to summon characters from the depths of the ocean which is an apt analogy for his imagination, troubled by thoughts of monsters and darkness. I wasn’t quite clear as to what the ramifications of this were as the stakes weren’t readily apparent nor was there a definitive ending for mine. This felt more like an introduction to a world, the family and a story premise and it would have been interesting to see where the narrative might have led in a longer treatment of the material.
My confusion was unfortunately not helped by varying levels of performance on the night. Matthews was solid as the blind boy who loves sitting on the end of the jetty near his home. He worked well with Simonne Matthews who plays his protective older sister who has troubles of her own as indicated by a call she receives as they sit side by side as night falls by the waterside. Rachel Bartlett plays the worried Mum and Matthew Sullivan in his inaugural production, the Dad. A case of opening night nerves cruelled Sullivan’s debut as he faced that most terrifying of ordeals for an actor, forgetting lines and breaking character briefly as a result. With greater experience he’ll develop the tools to help get out of that sort of trouble more seamlessly.
There was also a problem with variations in pacing and tone. The opening scene with the younger actors was a credible moment between siblings but there was a flatness to the scene at the train station and an awkwardness outside the family home. Adrian Alajbeg as The Fisherman and Ethan Dixon as The Boy, both of whom I took to be creations of Christopher’s imagination, added much needed flair and range to their delivery though ultimately to little payoff. The rhythm of the play was too measured and the same throughout.
Other elements didn’t quite gel. The mother, on being confronted by The Fisherman outside her home, seemed far too trusting, especially when he pulls out a knife to fillet the fish he offers her. Then there was the puzzling issue with the door knob. It was played as if she had locked herself out which could have really ramped up the tension in the scene but when it ended she simply opened the door and went inside.
There was a similar incongruity at the train station after The Old Woman (also blind) played by Samantha Coad-Ward walks offstage after delivering some mirroring dialogue with the Father about “not seeing”. Yet the character had indicated she was waiting for a train as well. Where was she going? They’re small things but they pulled me out of the world of the story.
Little moments such as when the sister says “take my hand” to her brother… whose hand she is already holding. There was also a line from The Boy to Christopher about closing his eyes which were already closed. Careful with the eye lines as well when playing a blind character as he looked directly at specific spots such as an item in The Boy’s hand from time to time.
There was good use of originally composed music by Miro Kepinski to set mood and establish an eerie soundscape and I did like the jetty being represented as a thrust from the main stage towards the audience. This made the opening scene quite intimate.
Overall all though this needed to focus more on setting up and paying off what is an intriguing premise, a boy whose imagination can bring nightmares to life. For an already short play too much stage time was spent on the father’s interaction with a Homeless Man (Ron Arthurs) and especially an Employee (Zachary Inglis). Stay with the children and especially the boy as this is where the real pearls are.