Night Slows Down

By Phillip James Rouse. Produced by Don’t Look Away Theatre Co and bAKEHOUSE Theatre Co. Director: Phillip James Rouse. Kings Cross Theatre, Sydney. 17 November – 9 December 2017

Photo : Ross Waldron

Indie theatre continues to bring us plays about things that matter … and do them well. Playwright and director Phillip James Rouse fears that, based on recent happenings in the world, it is possible that society and governments could “change and grow into something cancerous.” It’s a fear many have begun to share in the past year. Could there be a future where right wing extremism rules? It happened once before. What damage could it do today?

…. well directed theatre that is hard-hitting, issue-based – and aims to bring awareness and make a difference.

In his play, Rouse imagines such a time. A far-right government has been elected in an English speaking country somewhere in the world. Rabid, white, right wing, extremists are in power. Truths like climate change are derided. So are the experts who espouse them. Ordinary people have been cuckolded with the cry of “For the Future”. As disasters loom, people riot and die in the street.

Rouse describes the mayhem that ensues through a family torn apart by conflicting views and underlying envy and resentment. Their story is a microcosm of the turmoil and havoc that rage around them.

Photo : Ross Waldron

Sharon is a highly respected engineer who is environmentally and socially aware. She is married to Martin, whose family came from the Middle East. They are estranged from her brother Seth because of his racist attitudes.

As Seth rises to power in the new regime, his racist views become even stronger and acceptable. He has Martin ‘detained’ as an alien and uses this to blackmail Sharon into overseeing a very doubtful and dangerous project. Despite her warnings of the need to go slowly and gauge the impact of the project on the environment, Seth allows it to go ahead. Later, when she warns that the forecast of a major weather event will have disastrous effects, Seth refuses to stop the project. The result is catastrophic ..

Photo : Ross Waldron

Andre de Vany is cold and callous as Seth. He holds himself as inflexibly as the views his character embraces, his face set, his eyes hard, his shoulders stiff. The undercurrent of sibling envy makes him even harder and more callous. This is not a nice character to play and de Vany makes him heartlessly cruel and unlikable.

Rouse invests the character of Sharon with compassion, the will to fight and a vestige of hope. Danielle King’s depiction shows a woman who is strong, intelligent, gutsy and loving. There is steeliness in her resistance to Seth’s demands, wretchedness in her entreaties to stop the project, fervor in her pleas to free Martin, utter dejection in her powerlessness. This is a carefully written role and King finds every dimension convincingly.

Photo : Ross Waldron

Johnny Nasser plays Martin, the victim of the new regime’s xenophobia – and Seth’s racist venom. Nasser juxtaposes Martin’s love for Sharon with his distrust of Seth in a performance that illustrates the lasting and debilitating effects of vilification and discrimination.

The whole production is tight, the tension between the characters electric at times. Fear and futility hover menacingly … just as Phillip James Rouse hopes it will. Can this really happen? What can we do to stop it? Is there hope?

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki believes so. In an address to the audience after the play on Sunday 26th November he talked about affordable renewable energy sources that could easily be set up IF governments and bureaucracies were on side. He urged the audience to get involved in politics rather than letting deniers and right-wingers have their way. And his arguments, as always, were scientifically based and plausibly optimistic – albeit delivered a little fast and furiously. But that’s Dr Karl!

Once again, hats off to Rouse, bAKEOUSE Theatre, Don’t Look Away and theatres like KXT for giving us good, well written and well directed theatre that is hard-hitting, issue-based – and aims to bring awareness and make a difference.