The Hat Box, Family of Strangers’ second production, spares nothing in its gorgeous artistic design and brilliant performances, both from the actors and musicians in the production. What it makes up for in these departments, however, cannot save a disappointing and dull script.
Lace (Lucy Honigman) and Sean (Michael Wahr) have set a course for Spain in their little boat, Sean trying to fulfil his lifelong dream to meet his father, show him his new squeeze, and reconnect with his ancestry. But this world is too good to be true, as it slowly comes crumbling down around the two characters. The actors performed beautifully, holding together the many contrasts that the script demands, with Honigman a stand-out, gathering together the many threads that Lace demands.
Brigid Gallacher has created a thoughtful artistic scope for this play. The design is intricate without being too busy. It has a handmade quality to it that unifies the performers without swamping them. Tessa Pitt has created an amazing series of surprising and versatile props and backdrops, including lunchbag fish and doily clouds that make the set warm and interesting, contrasting with the second acts’ far more dirty and hand worn look. The symmetry between these two contrasting sets in the two acts is still held, with the markers of what has come before making it an interesting world to inhabit.
The scenes and snippets are punctuated by three very talented musicians, apparently on their own far more precarious vessel. Simon Rashleigh, Rachel Zbukvic and Carlos Parraga soundtracked a lot of the scripts’ intentions beautifully.
Hannah Cuthbertson’s delightful costumes aided in unifying the look of the play, with stage hands wandering around the stage dressed as sailors, and actor Honigman looking like she’d just stepped out of a Gilbert and Sullivan production in her amazing dress.
Despite all of these positives, I still had trouble with the script. It really needed to have a few editors go over it, for it to sit in a drawer for three months. What was attempting to act as subtext rapidly became text and needed to be buried in the script far more than it was. The character structure of the male not being able to view women as anything beyond a Madonna or a whore is a classic trope. But no attempt is made to reconcile this dichotomy, or even explore it. In the script, it only existed as a statement, rather than an idea. Sean is trapped inside his own anxieties, the crushing of his spirit through the oppressive force of his childhood, but there was nothing beyond that, making the character into an immovable force. In the end, neither Sean nor Lace are characters, rather moving symbols to an thought that is not extended. There is a certain grace with which you can approach a script. Daubing symbols on the audience is an exhausting experience and one where you’re left feeling a bit used.
The Hat Box: St Martin’s Youth Arts Centre – Irene Mitchell Studio
28 St Martins Lane South Yarra
Full Price: $ 18.00
MELBOURNE FRINGE FESTIVAL
23 September – 11 October