Review: X by Sunny Drake – Metro Arts The Independents 2012 at the Sue Benner Theatre

It was a supportive and packed audience for the opening night of X the latest in the Metro Arts Independents 2012 seasonEach of us was holding an obligatory drink as we entered the theatre but, long before the lights went down, aspects of the show, written, created, and performed by Sunny Drake had already begun.

We’d been asked to write a judgmental thought about alcoholics on our way in. Upon arrival at the door, we were given someone else’s judgmental ‘thought’ in return; they’re used during the show. Mr Drake begins the show saying it’s not at all about him and, by the end of the night the message is searingly clear: this show is about us. It’s about our addictions and our judgements, particularly around alcohol.  In X, the fourth wall is well and truly down.

This one-man show, directed by Therese Collie, doesn’t feel like a one  man show at all

There’s astounding multimedia and projection design, along with a cast of puppets, and it’s the animation and multimedia that steal the show. There are theatrical moments that represent vibrant and imaginative independent theatre at its absolute best.

The puppet characters regularly escape into a blissful, green-tinged, alcoholic world but, as the show goes on, the blissful and the real worlds collide with staggering consequences. Ingrid K Brooker helped along by Georgie Hauff, Taylor Wilson and Jordan Higgins has designed beautiful and enchanting stop-motion animation. Penny Everingham’s puppets are delightful and inventive creatures, although Drake occasionally struggles with his performance of them.

I’d love to tell you more about the plot, but I had extreme difficulty understanding it. There are two central characters: Jamie and Caitlin, although they take a leave of absence in the show’s middle as we focus on ‘Mr. Fancy’. There are also other characters who may or may not have been somehow connected with Jamie and Caitlin. The puppets are initially introduced and performed by Caitlin, but she quickly disappears, and how they’re connected to the real world remains a mystery.

The blurring of the puppet and the real world is at times a deliberate choice, but is also frequently confusing. The central tension of the play is set around a state-wide crackdown on alcohol, but this gets buried and lost, which means the plot’s momentum occasionally slows down. The play’s final five minutes of meta-theatricality become too declamatory to be truly powerful as the character’s we’ve been introduced to are deserted by Sunny for another purpose altogether.

Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of true wit and satirical mirth here that are fantastic. I haven’t been exposed to Sunny’s work before, and there’s a lot here to like. In so many ways though, X feels like a warm-up to something greater. Mr Drake is an intelligent performer in the making, with plenty of ambition and vision, but he occasionally struggles with the pressures of a one-man show. Ms Collie’s staging has moments of sheer delight and beauty, and the numerous theatrical tricks employed throughout the show are worth the ticket price alone.

Georgina Greenhill’s set, a discombobulated body that is sprawled across the stage, is inventive and detailed. Ms Greenhill manages to mix beauty and surprise into her design, and provides a fertile playground for Sunny. Brett Collery’s soundscape and composition present him at his atmospheric best. whilst the lighting design by Andrew Meadows is incredibly clever and beautiful. Indeed, Greenhill, Collery and Meadows create a production with technical cohesion that is rarely seen on the Brisbane Independent stage.

Greenhill, Collery and Meadows create a production with technical cohesion that is rarely seen on the Brisbane independent stage

As the audience left the theatre, everyone’s glasses were empty, our judgement purged, and our creative brains tickled.  X is a show of invention and imagination, and will give you plenty of moments of delight.

X  plays at Metro Arts from Wed-Sat until 28th April as part of their The Independents 2012 season ahead of its North American tour to the USA National Queer Arts Festival.
Book Online or (07) 3002 7100

Duration: 60 – 65 minutes
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Published by

David Burton

Playwright, podcast producer.