It’s extremely rare for a reviewer to complain that Community Theatre acting was not hammy enough, but move over ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’, Mates Theatre Genesis’ latest offering ‘Writer’s Block’ delivers telenovela overacting in spades and the audience couldn’t get enough.
Gold Coast playwright Kellie Silver’s work ‘Writer’s Block’ has had quite the journey. With humble one-act roots, the evolution of ‘Writer’s Block’ to a fully-realised two-act play has created a wonderful work full of action and comedy. However, it was the tugging of the heartstrings that truly won the audience during a warm Saturday afternoon in Birkdale.
Set in an unnamed isolated Australian town, ‘Writer’s Block’ tells the tale of Jane – a middle-aged widowed writer, who regularly talks to her characters. Jane writes as though she is playing the largest, most elaborate game of chess with her characters and their subsequent plot. The only problem is that sometimes she forgets she knows how to play.
Director Shane Webb has managed to create a cohesive production with his merry band of five actors, which was for the most part well-paced. With very lengthy scenes from the source material, it could have been easy for the play to have felt stagnant, but the forward momentum delivered by the cast carried it through. It was the attention to small details that made this production feel polished. From the inventive use of the set pieces to the never-ending supply of food from Jane’s desk, everything felt justified and necessary.
Portraying exasperated playwright Jane, Libby Harrison is no stranger to ‘Writer’s Block’. Having directed its one-act version and starring as Jane in the world première of the full-length play, it could have been easy for Bancroft to simply go through the motions, but from her onesie-wearing pre-show antics to her nutella-dipped carrot munching, her performance was class personified, even if she was a monster and didn’t finish her Tim-Tam. It was clear that Bancroft understood the source material inside and out, knowing where to create light and shade in her delivery. She was beautiful to watch on stage from her humourous eccentricities to her heartfelt goodbyes, which brought a justified tear to many in the audience.
We discover that Jane tends to write for the same two characters in all of her plays. Although their names may change from work to work, the people they are based upon do not. In her latest play, set during the second world war, we meet Adelaide, a young German ingénue and Jacob, an officer in the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force.
Whether Adelaide, Adele or Addy, Vivien Wood’s portrayal was bubblegum innocence, mixed with the right amount of humour. Although her character took a little time to settle, once she found her stride she was a joy to watch, especially whilst attempting a German accent. In the latter part of the play – where she bonded with Jane – Wood came into her own, moving from over-the-top schtick to a more sentimental, traditional style of acting where she appeared to feel more comfortable.
Every beautiful leading lady needs an equally dashing leading man, and ‘Writer’s Block’ delivered one full of machismo and swagger in the form of Zach Price. Although his character is dumb as a brick, Price’s portrayal of Jake was intelligently handled, knowing exactly when to play to the audience as a Joey Tribianni / Buzz Lightyear hybrid and when to play the more rugged pouting Puss in Boots lothario. Although this type of character has been written into hundreds of movies, Price made the character his own and lit up any scene he was a part of.
Supporting roles can be hard to make memorable, however, Andrew McArthur’s dual roles of Paul and Captain Brooks were fun to watch and were executed beautifully. It was smaller details, such as a wonderfully curated accent and a youthful innocent heel click that gave more dimension to these characters. It would have been nice to have seen a little more ‘stiff upper lip’ as Captain Brooks, but the overall portrayal was poised and polished.
Unfortunately, Tereska Hart had an uphill battle as Kate, with her character feeling as though it was written in as an afterthought. Hart’s portrayal of Jane’s city-dwelling wine-loving lawyer sister was relatively flat and it would have been nice to have seen her truly explore the relationship with Jane, either through sibling rivalry or overstayed-her-welcome house guest.
The set design by Shane Webb was minimal but inventive. The small stage, full of white windows acted as a modern cyclorama taking on the colour from the strategically placed LED lights. This allowed the simple yet effective lighting design by Webb, Heather Sheen, and James Auld to enhance transitions between fiction and reality. This use of white carried over to the very inventive prop design by Heather Sheen, where the audience was forced to use their imagination to fill in the gaps.
Mates Theatre Genesis has created something very fun and endearing with ‘Writer’s Block’, and should be highly commended for producing new Australian works of this quality.
‘Writer’s Block’ is produced by Mates Theatre Genesis, and is being performed at Birkdale School of Arts Hall, 101 Birkdale Rd, Birkdale QLD 4159 until November 2. For more information and for tickets visit https://matestg.org.au.
Photography by Ann Leung & Margaret Kemmery
Please note in the interest of bias, Editor-in-Chief Shane Webb has purposefully and deliberately been denied access to this review. This article has written and proof-read by the author.