Wednesday, 2 July 2003

Falling Petals by Ben Ellis, July 2, 2003

Falling Petals 
 by Ben Ellis  by Playbox Theatre  
 Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, July 2 to 19, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 2

Ben Ellis's writer's note states that the role of Falling Petals is "to make reality of metaphor" and suggests he wants to dispel stereotypes of the Bush.. He is unsuccessful in many ways.

The script is clumsily constructed, repetitive, inconsistent and often ridiculous. Its style flip-flops  between realism, cartoon, social satire, parody and contemporary grotesque. Its repeated attempts to shock us with explicit sexual action fail perhaps because we are jaded or unshockable.

There is little to recommend this play apart from a valiant effort by director, Tom Healey,  to make it up beat, interesting lighting by Daniel Zika,  a simple graffiti littered set (Anna Borghesi), chaotic sound (David Franzke) sand traverse staging.

The story is incoherent and characters are relentlessly dislikeable. Very quickly we care about no one and nothing.

Initially, there is potential for compassion or even a clear narrative intention. We hear about the undiagnosed death of a child. More mysterious deaths and panic ensue amongst the townspeople.

Teenagers, Phil  (Paul Reichstein) and Tania  (Caroline Craig) are desperate to do well in Year 12  escape the small town life to go to university in Melbourne. Their schoolmate, Sally,  (Melia Naughton) is uninterested in change. To save themselves and their tourism, the adults banish their children to bungalows or the elements.

The falling petals too obviously represent the deaths. Dying children may be a metaphor for the death of the rural sector but the parallel is laboured and awkward.

Characters are inconsistent. Phil tilts between blind ambition, weakness, obscenity, naïve virginal prudery and outright violence and verbal abuse. We see them travel no logical journey.

Sally goes feral and insane for no apparent reason. No other children seem to have had these symptoms. The panic provides an excuse for a lot of shouting and emoting. Tania is a shrieking, sexually driven harpy. None of these people have any redeeming features. 

The actors do their best with a shabby and thin script and repetitive dialogue.

Melita Jurisic  and James Wardlaw provide a range of adult characters but they are written with no depth or style so it is impossible to do much with them.

The message we are left with is that the most self-centred, arrogant, abusive and angry person will survive. This is an expensive piece of bad theatre.

By Kate Herbert

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