Furious Angels (Review) !Metro Arts Independents 2010

A long time ago now, it seems, when vinyl records were the thing, you could get regular Singles (one song to a side) as well as LPs (long play and lots of tracks). There were also EPs – extended play recordings, which usually had two or three singles to a side.

Well, of course, times and technology have changed as I was reminded a few years ago when I referred to someone’s being like ‘a cracked record’ and drawing blank stares from the largely sub-20 year olds in the group. These days the new ‘single’ is an iTunes download or a file-share on one of the other less-legal networks. From Tuesday this week, you could download single tracks of the Beatles from iTunes – showing my age, right?

What’s all this about? Well, I’m reminded by the variations and changes in recorded music presentations of a current fad in theatre right now – for single or EP performances of monologues. They’re not quite a one-act (though most of them are) and certainly not an LP – a ‘full-length’ play, though goodness knows, since the death of the three act play, it’s hard to know what a ‘full-length’ play is anymore. Time perhaps to dump that outworn phrase along with the ‘well-made play’ dodo that continues to lurk and squark somewhere in the room like Poe’s Raven.

2010 is the year of the monologue and the ‘EP’ in Brisbane. When is the last play you went to that had an interval?

Furious Angels by David Burton, directed by Travis Dowling, and currently playing at !Metro Arts Sue Benner theatre, is an EP but almost a Single – this one comes in at 60 minutes and not the more usual ’90 minutes without an interval’ type show we’re getting used to. Sighs of relief often accompany the news that there won’t be an interval – though the downside is no interval buzz, no chat about the show and, for management, no bar sales and fewer employment opportunities for casual staff – but I digress. Furious Angels has all the feeling to me of a sketch for a larger play out there, a short story, a chapter in a book or, perhaps, one part of a collage of one-person works – for Furious Angels provides the opportunity, as do all good monologues, for bravura acting. In this production, the play’s first, it’s for Daniel Mulvilhill who moves with ease from one character to another in Mr Burton’s piece set in a decaying mental institution somewhere in the 1930s.

The narrative structure of Furious Angels whilst overt – the narrator prefixes each episode as a ‘Chapter’ – is rather flimsy, though the theme is compelling. There are more than a few historical and literary hat-tips to, among other personages, Edgar Allan Poe and William Shakespeare, and they work well. Mr Burton is one of our more promising writers: Lazarus Won’t Get Out of Bed and April’s Fool are two of his better known and more recent works. This one, an eerie fable about the bleakness and blackness of authoritarianism feels more like a dream or a mood piece than that ‘well-made play’ which, I am sure, it has no intentions of being, but it does signal a development in the direction of the writer’s style from the more structured form of his earlier works. It’s a big subject to tackle across 60 minutes, and Mr Burton has done well to encapsulate it in fragments via a teller of tales, a narrator (Dan) who brings the subject matter to life through a handful of the asylum’s characters (Dizzy, Dr Aintel, nurse Lenore and Will).

The delight in this kind of stage work is the marriage of text and actor’s body with all its transformative power in what is a largely empty space. Travis Dowling’s direction understands this, though I found some of the sound effects repetitious in their usage – grim moments are signalled again and again in the soundtrack. And speaking of current fads, do we always need soundscapes backing action? Just wondering …

The fine performance by Mr Mulvihill is what lingers in your mind after the show is down. I love watching actors at work, which is why I swatted aside my initial thought that Furious Angels could work just as well as a radio play. It’s up close and personal – direct audience address, though some of the narrator’s asides are a little self-conscious for my taste – and the running C-bomb gag is not so much undergrad as overdone. The built-in humour of Furious Angels text doesn’t need such obviousness, and Mulvihill’s charm and stage presence fill it out admirably.

Kudos to the entire production and design team which includes collaboration on set and costume from David Burton, co-producer Carley Commens and Travis Dowling. Kylie Morris is on form as always with her sound design, and Ben Hughes‘ top-knotch lighting design provides a brilliantly-lit platform in which characters are born and die, emerge and retreat in this fragmented fairy-tale.

It’s being a good year for independent theatre in Brisbane and the regions.

Furious Angels plays till Saturday 20th this week at !Metro Arts and at Empire Theatres (Toowoomba) on November 25-26.