Remounted by MKA Theatre, The Unspoken Word Is ‘Joe’ is a play about a play about a play. I think. Things get confusing very early on. But ultimately it’s what happens when actors no longer have a script with which to protect themselves and must face life, real life. It’s about what you do when the shit really hits the fan and find yourself losing control for the sake of your art.
I will admit it took me a while to realize that this was not an actual staged reading, such was the convincing nature of the cast, especially Natasha Herbert as the “straight” stage director. She manages to steal every scene she is in and even some of the ones she isn’t in. Fortunately, once the off-script action starts, Herbert is cleverly placed in the background so focus remains on the four actors.
Nikki Shiels is particularly wonderful to watch portraying Zoey Dawson, one of Australia’s emerging playwrights (and the actual writer of the play), who slowly and (melo)dramatically unravels as the cracks in her happy façade begin to surface. I recall seeing Shiels in MTC’s True Minds two years ago and her comedy timing was apparent then. With The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe’, she has a lot more freedom to explore this zany and controlling ability and goes at it with full speed.
The two male leads – Matt Hickey and Aaron Orzech – are great as the catalysts and foils to Zoey’s eventual downfall. Annie Last is so wonderfully over the top as the craaaayyyzyyy girl that she does risk becoming more of a caricature than a person until Dawson (the writer not the character) dials her character down a notch with a strong emotive scene between her and Dawson (the character not the writer).
Dawson’s script is filled with hilarious moments, somber moments and honest moments. There are a few times where the dialogue get a little clunky or long-winded but these can be overlooked for the overall brilliance and wittiness of her writing.
The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe’ not a straightforward theatre performance. The meaning gets hidden within the story within the story, and a bit muddled in the meta-ness of the script but then, that is what life (and theatre-making) is like sometimes. It’s not always clear and it’s not always pretty to watch but it’s compelling and it’s something we can’t take our eyes off.
Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton
Season: Until 1 March | Wed 6.30pm, Thurs-Sat 7:30pm, Sun 4:00pm
Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc
La Mama Theatre
or 9347 6142
* Original review appeared on Theatre Press on 22 February