Review: Colder at Red Stitch Actors Theatre19 March 2018
At the back of a church parking lot, inside a converted hall, Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre bring to life a story that spans two decades and half the globe. This production of Colder, directed by Alyson Campbell, marks the Victorian premiere of Lachlan Philpott’s script. Through overlapping scenes that jump forward and backward in time, audience members piece together a story about absence, relationships, and unanswered questions. The plot is driven by the actions of a gay Australian man named David (Charles Purcell). As a young boy on holiday in Disneyland, David wanders away from his mother and is lost for seven hours. Years later, at the age of 33, in inner-city Sydney, David goes missing again, leaving his mother, his best friend, and his boyfriend to grapple with this mysterious disappearance.
The set, costumes, lighting, and sound of the production are kept sparse and unobtrusive, providing Philpott’s complex, poetic script with room to breathe. Actors move between the black and white areas of Bethany J Fellows’ abstract, raked stage, dressed in her simple, everyday costume designs. Lighting (Bronwyn Pringle) and sound (Chris Wenn) are used with equal subtlety.
Consequently, the task of transporting the audience between 1980s Disneyland and present-day Australia is accomplished largely through spoken word. For the most part, the characters do not speak directly to each other, rather they perform monologues in which they narrate their own lives and conversations. These monologues align, interrupt, build up, over-lap, and echo each other like a musical score. Through this, the production places its audience inside a multi-faceted shifting landscape of stories.
The cast of six work well as an ensemble to bring these stories into a coherent whole. Marissa Bennett and Caroline Lee pair effectively as the respective younger and older iterations of David’s mother, Robyn, creating a believable link between the distraught young woman desperately searching for her child in Disneyland and the timid, fragile woman searching for answers in the present day. Purcell plays David as distant and elusive, never allowing the audience to fully grasp what is going on in his head. As David’s boyfriend, Ed, Ben Pfeiffer is heartbreaking in his search for answers and closure. Brigid Gallacher swaps expertly between a terrifyingly smiley Disneyland employee and David’s down-to-earth best friend, Kay. James Wardlaw exists somewhat on the outer, weaving in an out of this tight group, appearing as a handful of different men with whom David has romantic trysts.
Overall, through its rhythmic interweaving of narratives, Colder creates an experience that is haunting and thought-provoking. The production goes beyond simply exploring what happens when a person goes missing; it explores the tensions that can lie dormant beneath the surface of any relationship. If you are looking for a challenging production that plays with language and leaves you pondering as you walk away from the theatre, this one’s for you.
Colder runs until the 8th of April, with tickets available here.