Sunday, December 20, 2015

RIPPING


Written by Dale Stam
Directed by Hannah Miller
Set and Costume designed by Alexandra Howard
Presented by Lexx Productions
Belconnen Theatre 15 – 19th December, 2016

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

One of the hardest tasks for emerging playwrights is to get their work staged. The Street Theatre with its Hive program has nurtured an audience for challenging original work. Some playwrights, notably Bruce Hoogendoorn produce their own work, and there are other avenues available.

But getting new work staged, and attracting an audience to it, can still be a frustrating, and often, expensive business, and certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Enter Lexx Productions, which was created in 2010 by local actor, Alexandra Howard, to focus on producing original works for both stage and film, while developing the skills of local actors and technicians.  Since then it has produced a number of productions both in Canberra and Sydney. “Ripping” is its latest offering.

John Lombard, Stephanie Mathews, Annie Roberts, James Waldron 

Written by Canberran, Dale Stam, “Ripping” is set in a cafĂ© on a university campus. Several female students on campus have disappeared, but these four friends, Stanley (Cole Hilder), Ripley (James Waldron) Ed (John Lombard) and potty-mouthed Bronte (Stephanie Matthews), are all members of a University Jack The Ripper Theory Club. They seem rather more interested in acting out unlikely scenarios to explain the unsolved Jack The Ripper murders than worrying about the current on-campus disappearances.

On this particular night, they are joined by a potential new member, Charlotte (Annie Roberts), who’s really a journalist in disguise, and who suspects that one of the members of the Jack The Ripper Theory Club may be associated with the disappearance of the students.

For reasons not altogether clear, Bronte takes a dislike to Charlotte and spends the evening bating her. There is also a sixth character, a waitress (uncredited in the program) who has no dialogue but whose disappearance heralds a significant twist in the plot.

Though potentially interesting, the play never really takes off, partly because of the unimaginative direction, partly because of the inexperience of the actors, but mostly because the author hasn’t really decided on the real focus of the play.
 
Much of the expositionary dialogue takes place with four of the characters sitting around a table. This is always a challenge for a director who must find interesting ways of staging the dialogue so that it will engage the audience. In this case the challenge was made even more difficult by the placement of a raised area at the back of the stage where the various characters act out their Jack the Ripper theories. Whenever this happened the other actors were required to look to this area so that their reactions were lost to the audience.

Except for John Lombard, all the cast delivered their lines in a naturalistic style more suited to television than stage, and as a result, many possibly good lines became unintelligible and opportunities to engage with the characters and their pre-occupations were forfeited.

As well, the theories offered for the Jack the Ripper murders were unconvincing, as was Bronte’s aggressive alienation of Charlotte. Then finally, interrupting an already short play for an interval completely dissipated what little tension had been building, so that even when the inevitable murders do begin to happen in the second act, the cast seem surprisingly unconcerned.

Stephanie Matthews, Cole Hilder, Annie Roberts 

However, whatever its flaws, “Ripping “is Dale Stam’s first play. It has provided Hannah Miller with her first directing assignment and the actors with an opportunity to hone their craft.  Hopefully, everyone concerned will have learned and benefited from their involvement, so that future audiences can look forward to the possibility of spotting an emerging writer or theatre practitioner in future Lexx Production presentations.



  

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