There can be no greater pain than that of a parent losing a child. Presented by the Kin Collective, Tim Winton's Shrine, focuses on two parents who - a year on from when their son has died - are still struggling to find solace in what has happened and to move on. With a future that seems to provide nothing but sorrow, they both end up relying on the past to get them through the present.
Winton's writing is heartfelt and poetic, but when it is placed into a performance theatre context, it is almost impossible to retain the same emotional depth due to the narrative devices used. Marcel Dorney attempts to create honest and raw characters but his direction and some ineffective blocking leads to a strong disconnect between character relationships as well as the characters and the audience. If we are expected to feel sadness and grief, to share in the pain of the Mansfield's, then Shrine simply doesn't work.
The scenes between Alexandra Fowler and Chris Bunworth as the mourning parents are too theatrical to create any true emotional connection where even Fowler's devastation at Jack's funeral feels contrived. Bunworth's scenes with June (Tenielle Thompson) initially start off distant and awkward, but the two performers eventually find their flow and the relationship is probably the most genuine of all being portrayed.
Christian Taylor as Jack is the linchpin to the story so it's a shame he isn't utilised more and given more presence in the story, particularly with his parents. Taylor has a restrained approach to conveying emotion, particularly with Fowler and thus provides a better understanding the impact his death has had on those still alive. Keith Brockett and Nick Clark as Jack's friends, Ben and Will, do well with the material they've got, but feel like they don't belong in this story and are more of a device to drive Winton's exploration of class divide.
The landscape plays an important role in Shrine and Leon Salom has designed a minimalist but engaging set that evokes feelings of bleakness and emptiness. There's a sense of being surrounded by nothingness and how these people are being enveloped by a darkness and the most affecting moments of the show are created when this is supported by Kris Chainey's lighting design, particularly during the ocean scenes between Jack and June.
Winton's writing in Shrine might be an honest look at how a community mourns its dead, but sadly this does not effectively translate on stage. The lack of direct character interaction and the narration of the story constantly creates a block in allowing the audience to believe these performances. Ultimately, there is far too much artificiality present for a story that is based around raw, human emotion.
Venue: fortyfive downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Season: Until 18 June | Tue- Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $45 Full | $38 Conc
Bookings: fortyfive downstairs