Playlab ‘Unconditional’

‘Unconditional’ // Playlab and Brisbane Festival

‘Unconditional’ was revealing.

‘Unconditional’, written and performed by Cameron Hurry and Sean Dowling premiered at the Brisbane Powerhouse, as a part of Brisbane Festival. This new piece of writing developed by Playlab and directed by Brian Lucas l is a scorching two-hander play following a couple’s counselling session between a pair made up of a cisgender-identifying man, and a transgender woman who has begun transitioning. We meet the couple after their relationship has ruptured and chronicles their journey away from one another, but towards discovering who they are without their other half.

The piece is visually simple, designed by Bill Haycock. The stage design consisted of a sleek, expensive, therapist’s office split into two, each side of the stage containing the characters’ worlds, split down the middle by a pane of frosted glass. Reflecting the middle-class, aspirational lives they had built for themselves, the place gradually becomes a confronting one for the performers to remain in, as they are forced to tell us the deep emotional intricacies of their relationship square on to the audience. It revealed all and served the play’s impact immensely.

Sound design by Brady Watkins sent the audience straight into the inner worlds of the couple.
It created a beautiful sense of intimacy between the audience and each of the actors, supporting the emotional ebbs and flows of the text, and coming to a stirring emotional climax when they eventually interact. Bringing focus and breathing colour into this world, lighting design by David Walters brought depth and pace, sometimes as still as an ambient light in the office, other times pulsing like a heartbeat.

Direction by Brian Lucas had a particular sense of attention to detail. Each line has been meticulously combed over to tease out these characters. Lucas brings us fully into the psyche, supporting the vision of intimacy and honesty ‘Unconditional’ fulfils.

Cameron Hurry and Sean Dowling, both the playwrights and actors of ‘Unconditional’ gave gutwrenching and charming performances as the on-the-rocks couple. There was an authentic connection between the actor and the text, one that can only come from telling a story so raw and closely considered. Compelling, vocally and physically, their performances contained a tangible sense of care for the stories they told.

Written by the performers, what is perhaps most compelling about the writing is that neither character is perfect. Flaws are given over to the audience for us to judge whether they are in the right, or in the wrong. Queer characters are so often prevented from being flawed, as to not play into stereotypes or waste the little representation they are given. But ‘Unconditional’ is different-it is a safe, neutral land for Queer artists to provoke conversation among the community.

Misunderstanding is so often the source of prejudice, and ‘Unconditional’ serves both to tell a story of love and heartbreak, but also one of trans liberation, and the ins and outs of medical and social transition. It is an important piece of theatre for any audience, LGBTIQA+ or not, because of the incredible empathy it holds toward the human condition. The final moments of the play leave the audience with questions about the future, rather than a full stop, an open conclusion to a story in flux with the ever-changing identities of the two characters.

Theatre like this is life-affirming: it reflects ourselves in all our glory. Flawed, lost and constantly seeking love from those around us. It was all at once painful and beautiful. Playlab has brought together an electric combination of multidisciplinary artists to create a piece that reflects what Brisbane artists are truly capable of executing.

On a personal note, as a gender-diverse person, it is so profoundly heartening to see such honest, authentic trans representation on a Queensland stage. Shows such as ‘Unconditional’ make young artists like me believe that their stories matter.

‘Unconditional’ performs until 9th September at the Brisbane Powerhouse. For more information visit their website.

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