The animals are committing suicide, the clouds have turned phosphorus purple and there isn’t a star in the night sky; the world is ending. What kind of apocalyptic, hypothetical nightmare is this? It’s Melbourne, 2003.
A View of Concrete is the tale of four interconnected people dealing with, for lack of a better word, life. Meet Neil (James Deeth); a drug dealing, book reading, advice giving professional who supplies people with a means to escape. One such person is Billy (Renee Francis). Billy wants to live with the fairies in her Jacaranda tree, literally; in fact, so much so, when she was younger she suffered from acute anorexia which she hoped would make her small enough to fit into the tree. Now, however, she is trying MDMA and Special K (not the cereal). Billy’s good friend is Jacquie (Josephine Clark), who is convinced that the government is intentionally keeping the truth from us so that the corporations can make enough money to one day leave our world and find another when Earth is uninhabitable; much in the same way Venus is now. There are problems closer to home though, according to Jacquie’s boyfriend James (Adrian Dart), who uses (copious amounts of) speed to keep an eye on his neighbour, who he is convinced is a terrorist. This motley crew, while seemingly a little bit left field, are really manifestations of society’s paranoia in one form or another and in reality are not too far from the truth.
Freefall productions have staged A View of Concrete on what I can only assume is a small budget. This is by no means a problem and I make this observation as proof that one does not need a large budget to put on a good show. It becomes a matter of simply finding the right team; that’s more than half the battle. For the most part, Freefall have chosen a great production team and an experienced cast. Director Suzie Thomas understands that the purpose of costumes, lighting and set is simply in order to enhance the play; so, instead of trying too hard or complicating things, keeps everything quite minimal and natural. The one problem was often with the lighting, which occasionally didn’t illuminate the actors successfully, but the intimacy of the theatre was forgiving. Together, Thomas and her team (Matthew Adey, Adrian Cabrie, et al) make the little theatre serve its purpose, which is, more or less, Gareth Ellis’ script.
I got the impression that Thomas really left the actors to develop their characters on their own as it felt as though they were all bringing something personal to their roles. The dry sardonicism coming from James Deeth was perfect for the character Neil. Similarly, the shrill panic from Josephine Clark fitted well with Jacquie and the nervous, irritable and twitchiness brought to James by Adrian Dart was used wonderfully for comedic effect. Renee Francis as Billy was an odd one, and the only one that never seemed to really find something unique about her character. She fitted in well with the ensemble and was a lovely actress but never quite rose to juxtapose herself with the others. As an ensemble they were tight, they enunciated, they were well paced and energetic. To capitalise on this, Thomas’ blocking seemed minimal (admittedly it was a small space), not overly creative, but fitting for the piece.
In summation, A View of Concrete errs on the side of three stars, however could have fallen on four. It is a rough gem which accomplishes much with little (which is not to undermine or underestimate anyone involved). If you happen to be in the area I would encourage people to see the show, enjoy a drink and see a piece of Australian theatre which has been brought to life.