La Mama Theatre Presents ‘The Other Side’

It’s about life or death. Or maybe it contains life and death, coloured in with shades of regret and loss. I’m still not sure but it all seemed very serious. Then chuckles from a confused audience confused the mood, and all it had was the mood.

The Other Side is a play with no ‘about’. Its words bounce off the walls and in your head. Trying to cling to a narrative is futile. The Other Side does something different it sets to convey a mood; like one of discomfort or isolation. To me it was a series of vignettes where the characters make idle musings with disjointed words.

Written and directed by James Clayden this piece of experimental musical theatre makes one promise on the program sheet: ‘there are to be two actors and one musician on this side of the curtain, which is in fact the stage but not the stage, if you know what I mean’. I was assured that this would all make sense after seeing the play, it did not.

The Other Side is performed by Clayden, himself, with Helen Hopkins, and music is provided by David Brown.

This is a difficult piece to review, if we push the content aside for a moment and discuss the production it becomes easier to talk about. Technically it is elegant. The set and lighting are dynamic. It’s all played around by the players to wonderful effect.

The players, Clayden and Hopkins, have good chemistry. You get the sense that the actors get what’s going on, even if the audience doesn’t. Hopkins plays the obscurity with strength and confidence. That’s really important in such experimental theatre. At the end of the day if you understood it or not, the performances stand aside and speak for themselves.

They do for the most part. Hopkins really shines in the play’s climax, a haunting rendition of the folk classic ‘Goodnight, Irene’. Even though the song came out of left field, it was a welcome respite from the dreary and grim poetic action. Clayden, however, falls short. He seemed stiff. Maybe it was a case of opening night jitters, but he lacked conviction in the words, his words.

To his credit however, he did not falter even when the chuckles from the audience became more than audible.

The music improvised by Brown drives the play. It grounds the disembodied words spoken by the actors and gives them context. It was always interesting to see where he would go in his cacophony of misfit sounds.

At his disposal Brown has a steel string guitar, some pots and an electric toothbrush. All used to great effect to mirror the actors’ actions. Brown’s performance that night was brooding and harsh and was a definite highlight. It would be exciting to see how it would change from night to night.

Director James Clayden is a painter, and if the play is taken as a living painting it starts to make sense. You see it all at once. There are no revelations to be made, no lesson to be learned and no truth to seek. And just like a painting in some museum of modern art, maybe I just didn’t get it.

The Other Side is playing at La Mama Theatre (205 Faraday Street, Carlton) until the 20th of March.

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