It’s impossible to predict what delights awaits you when planning to attend a Sven Swenson production with intriguing storylines and surprising plot twists assured, the lead-up to opening night is always full of anticipation. Tiptoe, the latest production from the masterly creative team at Pentimento Productions has just finished an incredibly short run at the Brisbane Powerhouse and left an awed audience in its dark and murky wake.
Act one of this frenzied three act thriller introduces us to all the players and impressively runs two scenes at the same time, side by side on a rustically adorned stage that takes us to two places in Logan, 1919. The imbalance of the two time frames and two competing sets keeps the audience slightly confused and has the remarkable effect of quietly unsettling the viewer as the story starts to unravel from both ends of the timeline burning toward the centre of the story which is where our perpetrator lurks.
Angus (James Trigg) and Seth (Sam Ryan) have absconded from quarantine on returning from World War 1 and hide out in an old shack where they have the privacy to explore their passionate love for one another and tend to their illegal still, Spanish flu fearing Logan residents are none-the-wiser.
Playing out simultaneously beside the two holed-up returned serviceman is Binny Broadfoot (Sarah Macleod) in her living room some weeks later. Pregnant and supposedly planning a home abortion she is disturbed by Justine (Caitlin Hill), the barren wife of the weedy and seedy Archie Cutler (Cameron Clark). As the two ends of the play hurtle toward each other (like a stick of dynamite lit at both ends) they are interwoven with the mysterious tales of the death of the revered Snow Cutler (Michael Deed) – Archie’s brother who died at war, and Jurdi Girdler (Gene Von Banyard) a creepy, haunting character that exists on the edge of society; an urban myth like creature that sticks in the nightmares of the locals. The explosive conclusion is truly unexpected. My guest and I both turned to each other with our mouths open and eyes wide once the story had reached its intense conclusion.
Once again Sven Swenson shines out as a master craftsman; the writing is supreme and the characters are complete human beings uncovered from some dark crevices of the human psyche. Swenson keeps his audience well in his grip for almost three hours which is not an often accomplished task. It is arguable that Swenson’s courage to push hard on the boundaries of shock demonstrates his true genius. An example of this? The audience watches a captive Archie Cutler flailing around (full frontal nudity) on the shack floor in a well-orchestrated and extremely graphic rape scene. The extreme nature of the scene is essential to set-up the final reveal and deliver the oomph it requires. If it had had one been one second longer or had one more visually assaulting element however it would risk going too far and endangering the payoff but Swenson knows how to use shock in high doses which others writers may avoid for fear of being confronting or others still overdo mistakenly thinking that more makes the glory.
Of course such brilliant writing serves great actors well and it’s difficult to single out cast members from such a talented, well played line-up; Sarah McLeod was full-on as the brash, provocative, independent Binny; a woman of-her-time and out-of-all-time. James Trigg was powerful as the conflicted queer Angus and Sam Ryan’s tortured Seth made the heart sink in hopelessness.
Pentimento Productions was established in 2009 to produce Sven Swenson’s award-winning work and should be held up as a shining light for Brisbane’s independent theatre scene. If you haven’t yet seen a work from this magnificent team, you are most definitely missing out on some of the best talent that Brisbane has to offer. Show your support for the team by visiting their website www.pentimentoproductions.org.au or keeping an eye out for their next production.
Someone needs to see all the things.