Away - La Boite Theatre

‘Away’ // La Boite Theatre

‘Away’ was cinematic.

Much like the extreme thunderstorm that faces the characters in Michael Gow’s ‘Away’, I too found myself swept up and away (pun intended) in the drama of the play. Opening at La Boite Theatre in QUT’s Kelvin Grove campus, ‘Away’ has all the right elements combined and makes something that probably shouldn’t work, work. From spectacular lighting to brilliant staging, ‘Away’ is a triumph on nearly all levels. 

 Similar to this year’s ‘The White Lotus’, ‘Away’ follows the (mis)adventures of a collection of Australian families as they go on a classic Aussie beach holiday, set against the backdrop of the Vietnam war. A diverse set of characters populate the world of ‘Away’; from a happy-go-lucky English family to the world’s most tightly wound mother and a Kim Novak look-alike. The balancing act of complex characters in the plot is one that could dangerously steer a drama piece into the melodramatic, but with director Daniel Evans at the helm, he managed to guide the play into a less ‘Home and Away’ direction.

 ‘Away’ has a very limited story arc; instead, it is the characters’ inner conflicts and personal drama that take front and centre, allowing the audience to intimately come to know these humans and their “baggage”. The beach setting is a serious breeding ground for Debbie downers. Tom, played by the charming Reagan Mannix, is faced with blood cancer; Roy, played by the affable Bryan Probets, is a headmaster who can’t cope with his wife’s delusions after the death of their son; Gwen, played by the hilariously explosive Emily Burton, is an upper-class Aussie woman trying desperately to cling to her false expectations of the material wealth she fought tooth and nail for. Seeing the pattern here? It is these intertwined conflicts that make up the plot of ‘Away’, but it is the performances that sell it.

 All the actors in ‘Away’ were perfectly cast and every single performer was right for their role. The actors had all the chemistry of a science museum, effortlessly bouncing off of one another, to create what appeared like genuine relationships, particularly actors Ngoc Phan and Kevin Spink, who played the delightful married couple, Harry and Vic. The same may be said for Billy Fogarty, as Meg, and the aforementioned Mannix, who created strong tension between their equally complicated characters. 

Special praise must go to the absolutely brilliant performance from Emily Burton as Gwen, a character so tightly wound that if she sat on coal it would turn into a diamond (thanks Ferris Bueller). Burton’s masterful scene work flowed from hilariously angry, to frustratingly hilarious, to downright scary at times. It was here that the show truly blew me away (I’m on a roll). I wouldn’t be shocked to find a search warrant for Burton, because she completely stole the show.

 The accomplices in the show thievery? Lighting designer Ben Hughes, sound designer Brady Watkins, choreographer Liesel Zink, and set/costume designer Sarah Winter. Like clockwork, all these spectacular creatives came together to create something truly amazing with ‘Away’, and all masterminded by director Daniel Evans. The large but minimal set bordered on otherworldly, and it was amazing to see how the actors could use every inch of that space in a million different ways. The lighting was like something from a movie, and the same may be said for the sound. All these together created a theatrical experience like no other. The slow-motion movement plus the flashing lighting and incredible sound design transformed ‘Away’ from a play to something more akin to a film. It became cinematic.

While the production was beautiful on many levels, the script was only enjoyable on a surface level. Great acting, awesome lights, dancing and set – but a limited story. At times, however, the play was hard to understand – loaded with symbols that leaked into one another. Characters would skip between comedy gold to deadpan in a matter of seconds, melding metaphors and taking away from the storyline. This made it easy to leave the show feeling confused; not satisfied, not dissatisfied, just confused. “I’ve got no clue what’s happening, but it sure is entertaining!” something overheard at the show, and which pretty much encapsulates my thoughts about the show. 

While the material is clumsy, ham-fisted, muddled, and confusing, ‘Away’ has managed to utilise all the incredibly talented creatives at its side in order to craft it into a wild ride of a play, complete with nuanced performances, great direction, and cinematic lighting. This is peak theatre drama, however, it does require some deeper thinking.

‘Away’ performs at La Boite Theatre until Saturday, 13 November 2021. For tickets, please visit La Boite Theatre’s website.

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