Thursday, 21 December 2017

Highly Flammable Love, Dec 14, 2017 *1/2

By Marcus Doherty & Zara Sengstock
At Irene Mitchell Theatre, St Martins, until Dec 16, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Dec 13
Stars: 1.5

Review also published in Herald Sun Arts in print on Tues Dec 19, 2017. KH
Marcus Doherty & Ayesha Gibson-Photo by Clay Waddell
The comedy in Highly Flammable Love is as out of control as the bush fire that ignites in the second act.

Dennis (Doherty), a law graduate, moves from Melbourne to Shilangatta, a remote country town, to be with girlfriend, Kelly (Sengstock), a local copper, but Kelly dumps Dennis unceremoniously, leaving him sulking, boozing and stalking Kelly for months after their break-up.

Writer-directors, Marcus Doherty and Zara Sengstock, are filmmakers who have shifted focus from screen to stage by producing an Australian romantic-comedy for the theatre.

Even experienced theatre-makers avoid writing, directing and acting in their own work, and, although we appreciate the efforts of this creative duo, this overly long production lacks basic dramatic techniques.

The theatrical problems are evident immediately after the opening medley of folksy Australian tunes (Dylan Knur, violin; Imogen Cygler, piano).

From the first awkward scene on a bench at Shilangatta Train Station, the characters and relationships are one-dimensional, the jokes puerile and the performances amateurish and overacted.

Although some audience members laugh aloud, the story is muddled and the dialogue jumps from infantile arguments to preachy exchanges about relationships, gender roles and personal freedom.

The production cries out for a dramaturg to shape the script, and a director to focus the style, balance the pace, inject dramatic energy, stage scenes imaginatively and tighten scene changes.

The style leaps from sketch comedy and messy slapstick, to weird musical/choreographic routines, then to oddly serious dialogue about life, love and arson.

After a patchy first act, the second promises more substance, but soon deteriorates into silliness when characters in cardboard-box cars skitter around the stage in a cartoonish car chase.

Ayesha Gibson, as Zoe the attractive arsonist, provides some credible acting, but Doherty’s uncomfortable grimacing and awkward physicality as the hapless Dennis, is distracting.

Even with the best of intentions and a decent premise, a show can collapse, and Highly Flammable Love needs a skilful theatre doctor to revive it.

By Kate Herbert


Dennis - Marcus Doherty
Zoe - Ayesha Gibson
Warren (Zoe's father) - Mick Shanahan
Kelly - Zara Sengstock
Georgia/Stevie/Newsreader - Rose Flanagan
Brandon Mannarino - Alan/Waiter/Roger
Kel Balnaves - Gavin

Composer - Finnian Langham
Piano - Imogen Cygler
Violin - Dylan Knur

Lighting design: Matthew Vasquez

Set design: Zara Sengstock


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