A plane crash, a suicide, an orphan, and a supernatural light that might provide intergenerational electrical powers and telepathic communication capabilities. After runs at Dark Mofo and Home of the Arts in Brisbane, Side Pony Productions and The Last Great Hunt bring their scifi thriller The Irresistible to the Sydney Opera House for UnWrapped.
The script, built out of edited improvisation, overlaps two markedly different storylines. Niamh works in adult entertainment dancing at a club while trying to carve a space out for herself in navigating a rocky friendship with Stacey and a pseudo-relationship with her client Christian. April is also dealing with a disintegrating relationship with her sister Bridget and she’s hoping taking her niece in for a little while will ease the pressure while not over-exacerbating her marriage. There’s something else too, lurking in the background; perhaps an unwelcome visitor from Bridget’s memories or a supernatural presence all its own.
Director Zoe Pepper speaks about the collaborators’ intention to explore unconscious bias and explains that their attempt to animate this invisible phenomena grew into an unusual mixture of familiar and other-worldly. The overlapping stories with approximately a dozen characters, told through the duo Adriane Duff and Tim Watts, demands immense control and careful attention. Pepper’s direction, which saw clean and clear transitions between relationships and circumstances, demonstrates an expert understanding of human sensibilities and the delicate differences in mannerism. The interwoven emotions that underpin every conversation were handled with a tenderness from the team that belies their care for the unique interpersonal theatre experience as an art of storytelling.
The design of this production is exceptional in its innovation and atmospheric achievements. Jonathon Oxlade costumes Duff and Watts in beige skivvies with futuristic tool belts and sets them sandwiched between stage-wide plastic sheeting. There is a lot of integration of these near-invisible layers into the action with smoke-screens, distant and distorted visions, and the physical manifestation of metaphorical barriers in two shower cubical-esque boxes also on stage. Lighting design from Richard Vabre makes clever use of the segmented staging with backlighting and strip-lighting that effortlessly signalled new spaces. The sound design from Phil Downing with composition by Ash Gibson Greig contributed significantly to the production’s unsettling and disturbing atmosphere with tense soundscapes that blended natural and synthetic sensations.
Daff and Watts are flawless in their juggling of the content of The Irresistible. With their 80s-chic headsets that projected their voices to the audience and added distortion to more easily differentiate the characters, the duo excellently inhabited both comfortable and creepy situations with a bright and connected dynamic. Particularly well-executed moments included Daff’s solo duologues as both Niamh and her admirer bro Christian which veered sharply from cringe-funny to breathlessly dangerous and Watts as deliberately distant and a bit scared Uncle Eric set against the unknown power of niece Cassie and her imaginary friend Abi. There is a deep generosity to their performances as they capture the small and subtle elements of people and communication.
The Irresistible is unlike just about everything else in its supernatural thriller conventions, technological intelligence and innovation, and unusual understanding of theatre’s capabilities. It steers the audience through beautiful images with unexpected emotional consequences including a distressing recreation of a plane crash, a woman losing her sister in real time, and an unexplainable presence on a dark, cloudy night. It’s a mysterious journey of the senses that will continue to play on your mind.
The Irresistible is running at Sydney Opera House’s Studio from September 11th – 15th as part of UnWrapped