Review: At Sea, Staring Up – JUTE at JUTE Theatre (Cairns)

Brett Walsh and Christiaan Westerveld

Main Image: Natalie Taylor

JUTE Theatre Company‘s twentieth year has been marked by the production of a beautiful piece filled with young, talented, regional actors, a meticulous design, and spectacular technical elements. At Sea, Staring Up, which opened late last week in Cairns, really has set a benchmark for the regional theatre company.

Commissioned at the beginning of 2011, At Sea, Staring Up is written by prolific (Irish) Australian playwright Finegan Krukemeyer. Krukemeyer’s script is stunningly poetic; the actors clearly embrace the language, as do the audience. The play tells the story of five distinct and diverse characters. Set over three continents and one vast ocean, the play weaves their stories together resulting in an innovative and thought-provoking production.

Noah (Brett Walsh) is in search of his wife who flew off a bridge and was never seen again. Elise (Ella Watson-Russell) drives each night through the German darkness to lull her baby to sleep but, with dragons snapping at her heels, what secrets does she keep? Caleb (Christiaan Westerveld) is a curious misfit who will swim vast oceans for Sylvia Wist (Laura Pegrum) a young lady who can climb waterfalls and jump through time and space – always a useful skill, in my opinion! The opening night’s performance, however, was stolen by Emma the Greek (Natalie Taylor) who sails the seas forever in fear of her curse.

Ms Taylor has crafted a beautiful character that the audience fell in love with from first laugh to final tear

These five young, very talented actors work beautifully together as an ensemble.

At Sea, Staring Up is directed by Suellen Maunder (JUTE’s Artistic Director/CEO) whose wealth of experience has crafted and woven together the story of five characters scattered across five locations. My initial concerns about the potential clarity of such a diverse piece were overcome, and the specificity of each actor shone through the performance.

The production is remarkable for the work of its creative team. Designer Luke Ede, Lighting Designer Jason Glenwright and Sound Designer Quincy Grant have worked as a dream-team to create the world of At Sea, Staring Up. The set, whilst simple, is stunningly beautiful, and Ms Maunder’s direction enables its multi-levels to become five different worlds. The set is lit beautifully by Mr Glenwright; these two aspects work hand-in-glove. However, it is the work of Quincy Grant which is remarkable. His composition and score for At Sea, Staring Up told its own sweet tale. It’s so subtle that the listener hardly notices it, though the sounds work on the subconscious – like all good soundtracks – reflecting the characters’ pain and love for one another, and engaging the audience on a deep level.

At Sea, Staring Up is remarkable for the work of its creative team.

Opening Night ran so smoothly that we all felt like Sylvia Wist – being whisked around the worlds as easily as she and feeling, as one audience member put it, “transported on a magical journey yet feeling so at home”. With only a couple of moments of confusion, the play comes together beautifully. However, the resolution is sold short by the lack of a solid ending. It feels abrupt, almost an anti-climax. However, this is handled well by the actors who take you into their world and keep you tight in their grip right until the final second.

JUTE has certainly started off its twentieth season with a beautiful piece, and it is one that is not to be missed.

At Sea, Staring Up by Finegan Krukemeyer plays at the JUTE Theatre for its March season (9-24 March). More details – including dates, times and behind the scenes videos, can be found on the JUTE website.

With thanks to JUTE Gallery for the images.

Matthew Church is the artistic director of Half Life Theatre based in Cairns, in FNQ. Greenroom is delighted to welcome Matthew as a contributor.

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Matthew Church

Matthew Church is an independent producer and the artistic director of Half Life Theatre for young people based in Cairns, in FNQ.