‘Zigzag Street’ was charming.
Fortitude Valley’s Ad Astra invited audiences into a time capsule – where The Smiths spun on a record player and wafted down the streets off Waterworks Road, where heritage green was slathered over many of the crisp white verandas in Brisbane’s inner west, and where whipper snippers were a must-have cutting-edge homeowner’s tool.
Their adaptation of Nick Earls’ 1994 novel ‘Zigzag Street’ transported audiences back to simpler times, when white-collar workers could make personal calls on the clock, and playwrights could manifest a compelling story out of the simplicity of two cornerstones of everyday life – heartbreak and grief. In this adaptation, the book was honoured faithfully, with direct extracts.
‘Zigzag Street’ follows six weeks of Richard’s life in Brisbane’s Red Hill and navigates the chaos, judgement, interpersonal struggles and hope that comes with heartbreak. Over 300 pages, the novel’s witty narrator examines himself and the world around him with deceptive facetiousness that eventually draws the reader into a nuanced empathy of the 20-something condition. Over three hours, the play strikes a mawkish chord; dwelling on parallels between Richard and his grandfather without answers and inviting us into the next chapter of his life.
Set in an intimate black box theatre in the Fortitude Valley, the stage was decorated with simple motifs, like boxes or a corded telephone, delineating the setting. As we journeyed deeper into the story, this gradually revealed the recently trashed Richard, who is occupying and “renovating” his late grandmother’s Queenslander home at 34 Zigzag Street, Red Hill.
A cast of five filled a total of eight roles, colouring the story with a wide expanse of personality. Samuel Valentine played a charming and goofy Richard who toed a self-loathing line with enough self-deprecation to win audience empathy. The youthful and hyper-intellectual banter between Richard and his best mate Jeff, played by Jason McKell, enlivened the performance. Valentine and McKell built a friendship that was both engaging and relatable. McKell also embodied the blasé Dr Greg.
Lara Rix as Deb dotted cute gimmicks as the loose receptionist, also doubling as Renee. Estelle Snowball as Rachel and Emma Black as Hilary and Sal both delivered committed and entertaining performances.
‘Zigzag Street’ kept a lively and enthralling pace through the first two-thirds of the show with the delivery of gags inciting constant snickers through the audience. The team of actors, helmed by director Mikayla Hosking gave a stellar effort to each physical joke, with unfaltering timing, momentum and motivation.
Technically, the show was well assembled, with a slick use of lighting, operated by technician B’Elanna Hill, which complemented the character entrances and the various sound cues. Unfortunately, the technical components were superficial when contrasted with the script’s depth and grit. The production did lose energy towards the end, which dragged out the plot’s resolution and confused the theme of heartbreak with an over-examined journey into new love.
‘Zigzag Street’ nearly lost its footing when balancing the comedy and the sincerity, with snappy and almost jarring transitions between quipping and contrasting scenes, but the joy and sentimentality in the comedy made for an excellent night at Ad Astra.
The privilege to see a show written and performed in and about Brisbane was ultimately like a warm hug, and it was lovely to see young actors perform a script with an inscrutable and nostalgic link to their own cultural and creative identity.
‘Zigzag Street’ performs until Saturday, 7 August 2021 at Ad Astra, 57 Misterton Street, Fortitude Valley. Unfortunately, lockdown restrictions may have impacted upcoming performances. For more information visit Ad Astra’s website.