‘The Things I Could Never Tell Steven’ was raw.
Director Matthew Bapty understands that the best musicals do not engage us through bells and whistles, but through a real, intimate experience with the music, the lyrics, and the characters who showcase them. As a result, Moreton Bay Theatre Company’s ‘The Things I Could Never Tell Steven’ contains no show-stopping dance routines or complicated lighting effects. Rather, Bapty relies on the connection his actors establish with his audience. The result is raw emotion and a unique theatrical experience.
The text itself is built around an interesting concept. The audience is introduced to four unnamed characters who never interact with one another – indeed, they only share the stage a handful of times during the entire process – but who are connected through their relationship with a man named Steven. As an audience, we never actually meet Steven, but through clever lyrics and an expertly-balanced blend of comedy and drama, we feel as though we know him. Perhaps we even feel as though we are him.
Many of their issues and conflicts are universal. These characters aren’t strangers to the audience, but they are not archetypes either. They are real people whose stories resonate. Such is the case when Steven’s Father, played with sincerity by accomplished performer Pat James, who sings of the value of compromise when relationships become strained – an emotional high point of the show. There is no traditional musical performativity in his rendition; the story is real to James and this truth in his delivery bleeds into the theatre.
Sarah Port has all the best comic moments as Steven’s Mother. She delights in the role and this delight is infectious. Port is a master of what Jacques Lecoq referred to as le jeu, a playfulness onstage that does not just demonstrate comedy but invites the audience to share in each joke and light-hearted moment. She draws each burst of laughter from her audience exactly when she wants it.
Steven’s Wife is played by fairly-recent ADPI graduate Emma Venzke. This ballad-heavy role is one that could have easily been lost amongst the bigger personalities onstage in the hands of a weaker performer. Not so here. Venzke is a captivating talent. Her job is to deliver perhaps the most emotionally-draining arc as she navigates a year in a rather tumultuous relationship. Venzke is a subtle performer who opts for honesty, but when she stares down the audience as she sings of her plight, one cannot look away from her.
As strong as these performers are, the surprise standout is Alex Lamont as Steven’s extramarital lover. He delivers his first number, ‘Sex With An Ex’, clad in a post-coital hotel dressing gown. The song is racy, full of innuendo (both physical and lyrical) and Lamont’s mischievous glee throughout the piece establishes the actor and role early on as the show’s comic relief. However, as the evening progresses, his promiscuous façade melts away and we feel every slight against him as if it were our own. The young Lamont is vulnerable and real in the role, and it takes an accomplished performer to rise to such heights of comedy and sincerity in a single performance.
The stellar cast is, unfortunately, a little encumbered by the set. There seems to be a lot of “stuff” in the very small space and, as a result, the actors don’t have the freedom to fully own the stage during some of the bigger numbers. With such a minimalist script, a minimalist performance space could have more fully complemented the staging. The onstage piano, however, lends an extra layer of intimacy and gives the whole production a heightened sense of connectedness.
Given the small cast and relatively short running time, ‘The Things I Could Never Tell Steven’ is not a popular choice for many theatres to stage. Some audience members may be put off by their lack of familiarity with the piece, but if you’ve never heard of this show before, do not let that deter you. Bapty and his team have created a piece of theatre that is real, raw and engaging, and it makes for an evocative evening of the best kind of theatre.
‘The Things I Could Never Tell Steven’ runs until Sunday, 3 March 2019 at the NeverLand Theatre. Tickets are available from https://www.trybooking.com/BACHA