Review: The Call

by Jane

A man crouches downstage, staring into, or out of, a cage. He is talking to the chicken about to be slaughtered and plucked. What is his responsibility to its fate? Can you apologise to something before you kill it? In what circumstances is it okay to kill?

His workmates appear; rather less impressed with his philosophical bent. They laugh at his falling in love with a chicken, in wanting to fuck a chicken; the women of the bunch is offered up – fuck her instead.

Three men drive through night streets, doing coke off the dash-board. They yell and scream: about dads, about life, about women.

A man sits outside a night club: he’s not really feeling it tonight. A woman comes out and talks about running away, of having adventures, of seeing more of the world. Nah, he says. He’s okay here. They talk more, and soon, instead of discovering other countries and other cultures, they are exploring each other: hands touching material of silk, falling into bed together.

Three men stand on the edge of a bridge and try to get the nerve up to jump. They fail.

A young woman realises, despite all her plans for the future, she’s pregnant. This changes everything.

And finally I realise this is a play that does have a throughline, and it isn’t a series of isolated short stories. Patricia Cornelius’ The Call is written for four actors and thirteen characters: Gary (Tim Overton) is trying to find his way in a world where he doesn’t quite fit in with the crowd, and he suddenly finds himself with a baby on the way with his new partner Denise (Renee Gentle). In this new world he grows apart from his friends Chunk (Nic English) and Aldo (Guy O’Grady); and finds himself out of step with the new workmates (Gentle, English, O’Grady) in an ever cycling round of new workplaces he comes across in trying to provide for his family and find himself.

In director David Mealor’s establishing of these worlds, however, where Overton plays a single character and the rest double around him, there isn’t enough differentiation in Overton’s tone of performance and the other actors. None of the character identities of Gentle, English, and O’Grady are entirely strong enough to stand apart from each other, while Overton’s Gary doesn’t stand out as singular amongst these other changing roles.  By the time, then, that I had realised Cornelius was taking us through the story of Gary, it was too late for me to be able to really invest and follow his story.

The cast all have moments of strength: O’Grady’s Diago, the slightly bumbling man who works in the chicken factory, is so warm hearted it’s a pity to loose him after the first scene; English as the alpha male of the group, trying to reconnect with his friend as they stand on the bridge for perhaps the last time; Overton’s soft falling for Denise, seeming to find the whole world in her silk gown; and it’s Gentle’s Denise that ends up carrying the connecting thread of the work, as she comes to grips with a life she didn’t want but can’t refuse and she becomes more depressed, insular, and isolated from her partner and children. But these strengths don’t sit where they should, in helping the audience understand the throughline right off the bat.

The Bakehouse Theatre is a curious space. It is named for the former use of the space, and even decades after its establishment as a theatre it holds the remnants of a theatre built somewhat awkwardly into a space. With one black wall of uneven plaster, one of wood paneling, and the back wall curtained off, the space feels unfinished. Kathryn Sproul’s set is simple: three plastic sheets manually moved through the space to create different depths of stage, and a couch swept in and out. In this strange space, though, the emptiness doesn’t feel stark, rather it feels under-dressed and under-utilised, encompassing blackness swallowing Ben Flet’s lighting design. This isn’t helped by poor use of projections – a technology too often used without proper thought. At its worst, when the cast is standing on top of the bridge, the projection of heavy white dots on a glowing black starkly contrasts against the black of the set under stage lights and a line sits heavily and awkwardly where they meet.

As we follow Gary and Denise struggle to come to grips with their lives, we watch Gary try job after job, before finding himself in Islam: a version of himself Denise doesn’t recognise. A fanaticism she can’t recognise. Cornelius’ story, following the transformation of a working class country Australian into a man who will travel to, perhaps fight for, perhaps be imprisoned for, his adopted Middle East, asks us to think about the paths that lead to this happening. Unfortunately for asking these questions Mealor and Junglebean’s production isn’t quite there.

Junglebean presents The Call by Patricia Cornelius. Directed by David Mealor, designer Kathryn Sproul, lighting and sound by Ben Flet. With Nic English, Renee Gentle, Guy O’Grady, and Tim Overton. At the Bakehouse Theatre. Season closed.