Sunday, August 9, 2009


Cross (Mudlark Theatre)
Thursday August 6th, Peacock Theatre, Hobart
Also touring 7 regional locations with Tasmania Performs
Anica Boulanger-Mashberg

The perils of reviewing are numerous. Infinite, even. A reviewer can misinterpret. Mis-describe. Misjudge. Misrepresent. Miss the point. Or, any number of other sins. But one that concerns me particularly in this instance is the fact that sometimes the most wonderful thing that can happen to you as an audience member is to be completely taken by surprise. I mean completely. And a reviewer can obliterate the chances of this happening. Already, by mentioning this issue, I am influencing audience expectations – just as Cross’s publicity information does by calling it a ‘new Australian story with some unexpected twists’. Well, already you’re expecting the twists, because they told you to. You just don’t know what they are yet. And you won’t find out from me, either. You should go and see the show. And if it’s already passed your town by the time you read this, then you’d better hope someone invites Mudlark to tour this show again sometime, because I’m sorry you missed it; it really is worth seeing.

I won’t make any more fuss about what took me by surprise in this show – the ‘twist’ was only one element of a satisfying show, and I don’t want that element to overshadow anything else. But let me just say that the integrity of the production as a whole was such that I spontaneously felt a powerful, emotional, and even physiological response to a particular and unexpected turning point in the narrative, and I immediately wished I could go back and experience it again (which, of course, is, by definition, impossible). That the show stimulated such a response is a credit not only to the writing, the direction, and the performance of Cross, but also to each of the technical elements (design, soundscape) which contribute to the development of the narrative, allowing this one moment to be so strong.

Cross is the latest production by Mudlark Theatre, a young, Launceston-based company, and it exemplifies their commitment to producing contemporary Australian theatre and making it available to regional audiences. The new script by Stephanie Briarwood is affecting, entertaining, rich, and despite being a little raw (it could still benefit from some tightening and editing), it forms a solid basis upon which Carrie McLean builds a very engaging night in the theatre. Cross is the story of a sisterly road trip: Regina, on a funded project to photograph roadside memorials, is accompanied by her younger sister Erica – a puppeteer with an unsquashable vigor and a determination to force Regina to confront her past. It is also a story of grief, and of how we learn to live with loss.

Mudlark’s production augments Briarwood’s text with an efficient, versatile, and equally rich technical ‘performance’ (although the puppetry element is under-utilised). The lighting is complex and suggestive but never intrusive, the soundscape evocative and effective, and the car unassuming and yet dominant at the same time. The car – neatly packed with props and objects which always seem to pop out of the right place at the right moment -- fluctuates between literal and symbolic representation. One moment it is a vehicle on a highway; the next it becomes a memory of the sisters’ childhood; and the next it transforms into a cabaret theatre. This reflects the show’s ability to blend the poetic and the literal.

Both technical and textual elements support two strong performances from Jane Johnson and Emma Hardy. The sisters have a familial history that is almost tangible and, although sometimes the script encourages uncomfortably self-conscious attempts to construct and illustrate this history, for the most part the sibling relationship is easy and convincing. Johnson is particularly watchable as Regina, and her final monologue is filled with a gentle, uncomplicated compassion which elicits the same in her audience. Hardy, a more recent theatre graduate, is a little more uneven (and perhaps some of her monologues needed more refined directorial attention), but the two have an appealing energy together on stage, and it is a pleasure to join Reg and Erica on their journey.

This is a production of consummate theatricality – not a perfect show, but one which takes risks, exploits the opportunities offered by the medium, and rewards audiences for their time in the theatre. A wonderful antidote to the horrific and frightening trends towards reality television and non-narrative entertainment. I look forward to more of Mudlark’s offerings in the future.