Griffin Theatre Company
Until November 21, 2009
Strange Attractor is the last Griffin “main season” production for the year, and caps of a year of presenting exciting new Australian writing – Holiday, by Adriano and Raimondo Cortese; Concussion, by Ross Mueller; an update of working-class drama The Call, by Patricia Cornelius; and Steve Rodgers’ Savage River.
Sue Smith’s Strange Attractor is set in a mining community in Western Australia’s Pilbarra. In the aftermath of a “category 4” cyclone, that has torn up the camp and taken the life of the Safety Officer, four colleagues sit around in the claustrophobic surrounds of the workers’ mess, and reflect on the incidents of the last few days – and await the arrival of Colin Murray (Darren Gilshenan), a company man from Perth, sent to investigate the death.
Gus Gunther (Sandy Winton), the safety officer, seems to have died while trying to secure some roof bolts, in the midst of the cyclone. But his colleagues’ accounts of the incident don’t quite tally with the evidence. Who is lying? And why? Butch engineer Truckie (Blazey Best), barman Chilli (Ivan Donato), elder statesman Taipan (Peter Kowitz) and young redneck Rube (Josh McConville) are in various states of grief and guilt, and as they try and get their stories straight, details of relationships between different members of the group begin to emerge.
Smith’s script is well structured, maintaining the momentum and tension needed for this psychological drama, and keeping you thoroughly absorbed up to the “reveal”; afterwards it loses some of its tension, and perhaps errs towards the melodramatic and the maudlin.
This aside, this production has you in the palm of its hand for most of 90 minutes. Smith writes great characters and engaging dialogue, full of blokey and bogan idiom – most of which is delivered very well. There’s perhaps a bit of patchiness in the performances – some delivering naturalism, while others ham it up. Kowitz, Gilshenan and Donato seem the most comfortable in their roles. Smith’s long career writing for the screen filters down to give her characters depth and richness. She leaves us with a powerful statement about the impact of industrial booms and economic imperatives on individuals.
Nick Marchand’s production is designed and lit imaginatively – the use of spotlighting to direct attention around the stage and suggest time-shifts was particularly effective, and the set, sound design and lighting really captured the claustrophobic heat of a situation simmering towards emotional eruption.