The first play by Irish playwright Mark O'Rowe, Crestfall, follows three women living in a tough and brutal town who are dealing with the abuse and hardness that characterises their location. While the performances themselves by Freya Pagt, Marissa O'Reilly and Marissa Bennett are highly committed and convincing, it was very difficult to engage with and remain engaged with the show the whole time.
Although the material is harrowing, and therefore becomes difficult at times to listen to the womens’ stories, the main issue for me was that the actors do such a good job with the accents, that at times, you miss out on what is being said while trying to understand the thick brogue. It doesn't happen often but it happens enough that I found it prevents you from being completely absorbed by what is happening.
With a minimalist stage design of bare white walls and a white-painted ladder, an unfortunately ineffective lighting design, and - while not a fault of the show itself but more to do with the choice of venue - the noise coming from the Speakeasy occurring one floor above, it was very difficult to stay absorbed in this world and fully comprehend the plight these women face.
After a short intermission, the second of the double bill, Ariel Dorfman's Purgatorio is performed, which, to be perfectly frank, is brilliant. Directed by Celeste Cody, it has the markings of an Attic Erratic performance with its emphasis on creating flawed and authentic characters that drive the plot.
Purgatorio finds a couple that must atone for their sins and learn to forgive each other if they are to be set free. The intelligent stage design for the show helps build the isolation and uncertainty that the couple find themselves in. The audience is split in two, sitting on either end of the stage and with a black scrim screen between the two performers, there are substantial periods of times where you can only hear but not see the other performer.
Pagt returns as the Woman and is just as focused and committed as she was in Crestfall. There is a moment when Pagt is handling a knife and watching how she held the knife and interacted with it, displayed the level of skill and nuance she has in allowing the character to take her over. Jason Cavanagh as the Man manages to convey a broken figure who is devastated but at the same time angry by what has been done to him and finds the perfect balance of difficult emotions in his portrayal. The interactions between the two are gripping throughout and demand our attention.
While both plays in Inferno: A Double Bill take a look at what it is that makes us be human and questions why we do the things we do, I found the overall production of Crestfall to be rather disappointing. It seems to rely too much on the skills of its actors and not enough on creating the environment and mood of the piece. Purgatorio on the other hand, brings together a variety of theatrical devices and creates a unique and visceral theatre experience.
Venue: L1 Studios, 1/377 Little Bourke St, Melbourne, 3000
Season: Until 14 February | Tues -Sun, Crestfall 7.15pm, Purgatorio 9pm
Tickets: Both shows: $42 Full | $38 Conc, Single show: $28 Full | $22 Conc
Bookings: Citizen Theatre
* Original review appeared on Theatre Press on 6 February.