>brokenville by I Theatre

>reviewed by jeremy samuel

>date: 19 jul 2002
>time: 3pm
>venue: the jubilee hall
>rating: ***

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


After a war so destructive that the whole land is reduced to rubble, a group of survivors emerge from the rubble, drawn by the sound of a child's music box. Having lost everything - their homes, their memories, even their names - they huddle round a fire and begin telling each other stories because, as one of them says, "It's the only thing we can do." Silly me, I'd have put foraging for food top of the list.

The third installment in Philip Ridley's trilogy of children's plays, BROKENVILLE was originally staged with Kosovan Albanian refugees, and explores the redemptive power of theatre and story-telling. It takes place against a post-apocalyptic landscape of crumbling buildings, ruined furniture, and walls riddled with what may or may not be bullet holes. Tan In In's set conveys this desolation well, although it could have been a little rougher - her fallen bricks form neat little piles, her rubble lies just so.

Fairy tales contain a raw, primal force, especially when one considers how much darker they actually are than we have come to think of them - the earliest versions of 'Little Red Riding Hood' had the girl being not just eaten but sexually violated by the wolf. The stories that unfold on stage are similarly elemental, tapping into the hopes and fears at the heart of human existence.

>>'The stories that unfold on stage are deeply elemental, tapping into the hopes and fears at the heart of human existence.'

As the characters tell their stories, we can see healing take place. Satchel (David Tan) overcomes his fear of a bully by, like Jake in Ridley's 'Sparkleshark', taking control of his story and seeking revenge within the narrative. An old woman takes on the role of a witch in love with a young prince (Caleb Goh), acting out her fantasies of rejuvenation and reclaimed energy. There are disturbing bits along the way - Amber Simon's baby dies senselessly, a mother and son are burnt to death in a fire they started, Kate Naughton flirts energetically with her own father and brother.

Caleb Goh essentially plays a weird parody of himself, constantly flaunting his hair and six-pack at anyone who cares to look at them. He is very good, with a manic delight in his role and fine comic timing. Also good are Maureen McConnell as the old woman, obviously relishing her tough-as-old-boots persona, and Daren Tan as the half-blind Tattoo. Lily McConnell displays a strong stage presence despite being only ten, but can only do so much with a role that keeps her silent for most of the play.

The cast as a whole work together competently, but lack the chemistry that would enable them to make their stories truly take flight. More crucially, they do not give one the sense that they have been through a trauma as devastating as the text implies. Some of them claim to be injured but show no physical signs of it, and no one really seems to mind having their long-term memory obliterated. Director Brian Seward shapes each story well, but appears to have paid less attention to the tellers of the tales - they may have forgotten their personal histories, but still could have been better defined as characters.

BROKENVILLE consists of stories - well-told, deeply moving, thought-provoking stories - but not much more. The larger plot (war, everything broken etc.) is lazily written and contributes nothing. There is no dramatic tension apart from that in the stories, and the ending is annoyingly pat. This is a shame as this production has all the right ingredients, but never adds up to more than the sum of its parts.