‘Horizon’ was confronting.
Playlab Theatre’s ‘Horizon’ opened with a bang at Brisbane Powerhouse’s intimate Underground Theatre Wednesday night, gripping the audience as it built from a light-hearted lovers’ road trip to a seemingly life-or-death confrontation on the side of a remote Australian highway.
The fantastic opening scene was impressive both technically and theatrically: a stylised slow-motion zombie chase in the life-size Ford Falcon that served as the sole set piece. Two screens behind the classic Aussie car alternated between showing the road rolling by and melodramatic movie trailers in the style made popular in the 1980s and 1990s. The performers served as live voice-over actors for the trailers, assuming the protagonists’ identities and providing insight into their characters’ changing thoughts and feelings for each other and of themselves.
Kudos goes to video designer Nathan Sibthorpe, sound designer Guy Webster, lighting designer David Walters and stage manager Elise Baker for delivering a highly compelling, seamless audio visual experience; the zombie chase was just the first of multiple trailers used as plot devices throughout this innovative 90-minute performance. Spotlights and smoke were well-utilised to signal a switch from real-time to the inner thoughts of the characters; transitions between scenes were interesting rather than cursory, as the car rotated on stage and the actors climbed out, up and back in.
Playwright Maxine Mellor’s razor-sharp script was brought to life by director Ian Lawson and expertly executed by actors Ngoc Phan (as Sky) alongside Sam Foster (as Cole). As the journey to visit Cole’s sick father progressed, theatre-goers watched a change from playful, witty banter to suspicious cross-examination. Themes of power and privilege, the #metoo movement, the judgment of women as seen through the lens of the Lindy Chamberlain case, and the abuse of Australian land were gradually interwoven with the plot. “Not you too?” Sky asks as her idea of Cole’s identity begins to crack. She later muses, “once you’ve seen a monster, you start looking for them everywhere”.
Foster and Phan’s powerful delivery of dialogue–as well as the beautifully crafted poetic monologues atop the Falcon–drew the audience in and kept a formidable pace. While there were a few laugh-out-loud moments, the overall feeling was of a rising tension; Cole as black and Sky as white; a relationship strained by secrets as “embarrassing omissions” are brought to light along the way.
This included an increasing sexual tension, with references to masturbation and loss of virginity in the first half, leading to a very believable romp at the side of the road. Intimacy coordinator, Michelle Miall, did well to elicit a natural performance from the actors; their chemistry strong in moments of lust as well as mistrust.
Lawson’s direction, supported by Foster (also credited as movement director–especially noteworthy as an after-show presentation revealed he’d performed with a broken foot!), provided excellent use of space and compelling physical performances. The image of Phan standing silenced, both hands covering her mouth, lingered after the show; Foster’s on-stage vomit was a highly convincing expulsion; his character literally sick with himself.
When asked what inspired her to write ‘Horizon’, Mellor has been quoted as having a desire to create something that would “question the current political and social climate of Australia, and where we are headed as a nation.”
“Aspiration became a key word,” Mellor said in Playlab’s Education Notes. “What do Cole and Sky aspire to be? What does Australia aspire to be? The set piece of the car became a symbol for this journey — who is driving and to where?”
Intense and unnerving in the best possible way, ‘Horizon’ confronts theatre-goers with these questions and more.
Playlab Theatre’s ‘Horizon’ performs until Saturday, 29 May 2021 at Brisbane Powerhouse and is suitable for ages 16+. For more information, visit the Playlab Theatre website.
Photos by Stephen Henry