Main Image: Simon Hall
I first saw this show in its infancy, at the USQ Arts Theatre in Toowoomba. It was a one-man job (well, one man and one puppet) created by Steven Pirie who was a first year theatre student at the time. It was raw, fun and silly, but most importantly, it was the seed that grew into the marvellous Escape from the Breakup Forest that made its Brisbane debut in the Shopfront of the Judith Wright Centre on Saturday night.
The show is now a three-hander and comes to us from the Mixtape Theatre Collective. Hailing from Toowoomba, Mixtape is proudly regional and relatively new. Read more about them here.
Directed by Claire Christian and Ari Palani, Steven Pirie is joined onstage by Dan Stewart and Ell Sachs, who play a host of minor characters and manipulate Curly the puppet with obvious joy and skill. The plot is thus: Geeky teenage boy, Josh (Steven Pirie) meets quirky teenage girl, Emma (Ell Sachs). They fall in love and embark on a five-year relationship. Girl dumps boy for reasons unknown, boy collapses into an abyss of self-loathing and all-encompassing hatred for three years. One morning at the end of the third year he wakes up in a fantasy forest, ‘the breakup forest,’ and must embark on a quest to escape (whilst also overcoming his loss), with the assistance of a puppet spirit guide, Curly (Dan Stewart).
The design is fun. Based on simple black and white drawings and cardboard cutouts, it’s like a comic come to life, with projected multimedia in the same style. As far as design goes, it’s not new but it’s welcome, and suits the piece to a T. The characters are wildly colourful caricatures, and the black and white provides a nice balance for this. Along with the simple lighting and snappy sound design the piece seemed to say “We’re just having a play, nothing fancy, you’re welcome to pull up a chair and have some fun with us.” This, I love.
I really enjoyed the show. It was slick and clever without being up itself; fast-paced and funny without being snarky, and pleasingly stupid. I could almost forgive the fact that the plot became incredibly dubious as soon as we entered the Breakup Forest – almost. Something was missing. Perhaps it was the change from heightened realism to fantasy that jarred me? Only a little though- sometimes you just have to go with it!
Mr Pirie is at his delightfully quirky best and transitions from endearingly sweet to plain ridiculous with aplomb. This was my first experience of the comedienne Ell Sachs and I liked the woman immensely. She plays ‘high-school jock’ better than high school jocks do, and she’s cute as a button.
The eccentric Dan Stewart completed the trio of fun nicely. With a nice spoonful of snappy asides delivered to the audience and a dose of unaffected charm, the opening night crowd lapped up Mixtape’s antics. Oh, and we all got to hold hands at the end! I happened to be sitting next to the devilishly handsome program manager of the Judy… lucky gal.
Breakups. We’ve all seen a few. Some end with a face-palm, others with a tumbler (or ten) of gin, and others still with what seems to be an endless depression, a gut-wrenching ache in your chest and a bad mood that can last, well, years. If you’ve seen the latter, then chances are Escape from the Breakup Forest is the show for you. And your friends. And your poor mother.
Escape from the Breakup Forest is playing at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts until Saturday the 23rd of March. It’s selling fast.