Review: Pale Blue Dot – La Boite Theatre Company at the Roundhouse

Images: Dylan Evans

Brisbane’s winter theatre season is in full-swing each year come July. I often remark to fellow theatre-lovers that we’re spoiled for choice these days – halleluia! It hasn’t always been this way, of course.

Wednesday night last week and we had a world premiere of Kathryn Marquet‘s entertaining new work PALE BLUE DOT, directed by Michael Futcher. It was also the first opening night for new La Boite Artistic Director Chris Kohn and the first time we’ve had a play set in Toowoomba. (Cheer for the home town.)

Ms Marquet’s script is a dazzler as is Mr Futcher’s direction. Michael Futcher is an accomplished and inventive director and, in this production, his staging is beautifully framed and orchestrated within Josh McIntosh‘s set – a false proscenium which leads down into a sunken playing area of blue, concentric circles. Jason Glenwright‘s lighting design melds seamlessly with the dramatic projection design from optikal bloc (Craig Wilkinson and Stephen Brodie) and the action is cleverly intensified by Gordon Hamilton‘s sound design. This is a fabulously well-designed, dynamic production.

The pale blue dot of the title is planet Earth as seen from outer space and it’s a work that asks the question we all wonder as we look up into the vastness above us: “Are we alone?” Ms Marquet writes eloquently in her programme note about the thematic line underpinning this work – that it is human nature to reach out and long for someone to take our hand – to want to know someone’s watching over us.

pale-blue-dot-2014She explores this desire through the story of Jole (Hugh Parker) an insurance assessor who clearly hates his job. He’s a new father with a wife Holly (Lucy Goleby) suffering post-natal depression. Life’s emotionally fraught for Jole as it is for Greta (Caroline Kennison) and her teenage daughter daughter Storm (Ashlee Lollback).

Greta’s convinced her pilot husband was taken years before by aliens and that they are coming now for Storm. Indeed, Greta’s after an insurance payout on her policy against alien abduction. Storm, after claiming to have seen a strange being outside the hall on the night of the school formal, was spirited away to be found later in a paddock in Roma. She has no memory of how she got there but is clearly a believer in the existence of aliens of all kinds.

Jole, at first sceptical, is gradually drawn into the apparently crazy world of Greta and Storm and, probably not surprisingly, finds himself the object of the fatherless Storm’s affections. Meanwhile his wife Holly becomes increasingly disturbed and believes he is being unfaithful. He, in turn, begins to believe that his child is part alien. Cue the comedy.

The ensemble of four actors are impressive in their roles. Lucy Goleby’s Holly is a high-powered performance that hits all the right notes. Ashlee Lollback creates the wide-eyed yearning of a young girl; her Storm is coltish and beautifully unaffected. Hugh Parker’s relaxed presence and sure timing are always a joy to watch, and he finds the comedy and the pathos in the rumpled Joel in right measure. It’s terrific to see Caroline Kennison on stage again. She gives standout, wonderfully detailed performances as the straight-talking Greta and the batty Deidre Spinnaker.

Ms Marquet’s PALE BLUE DOT is a comic delight; its characters, situation, narrative line and dramatic shape are all first rate.  I did find the final moment a bit sentimental for my taste, but Pale Blue Dot‘s clever open-ending working in tandem with such a clear and strong thematic drive won me over.

PALE BLUE DOT plays at the Roundhouse until 9 August. See La Boite’s website for showtimes.