Fireface: review

Darcie Irwin-Simpson and Darcy Brown. Photo: Phyllis Wong

Darcie Irwin-Simpson and Darcy Brown. Photo: Phyllis Wong

Stories Like These and atyp Under The Wharf

ATYP Studio 1, August 4

Adolescence can be a confusing, angst-ridden time – particularly if your parents are everything you don’t want to become as an adult. But how much does ineffectual (as opposed to abusive) parenting shape a troubled teenager?

In his 1997 play Fireface (first seen in Sydney when the Sydney Theatre Company presented it in 2001) German writer Marius Von Mayenburg presents us with a middle-class family where communication has broken down.

The parents aren’t talking. The father (James Lugton) would rather read newspaper reports about murdered prostitutes than communicate with his wife (Lucy Miller), while she flaunts herself around the home in various states of undress.

Their alienated children, meanwhile, are exhibiting worrying behavioural traits. The burnt blackbird that the mother discovers wrapped in newspaper behind the garage is surely a warning sign but the father is in denial, dismissing it as nothing serious.

In this emotionally arid world, provocative teenager Olga (Darcie Irwin-Simpson) starts using her burgeoning sexuality as a form of power, solace and a means of escape, first seducing her equally alienated younger brother Kurt (Darcy Brown) and then Paul (Ryan Bennett) who catches her eye because of his motorbike.

Jealous at Paul’s arrival, Kurt’s fascination with flames escalates and he really starts playing with fire. There’s no doubt it will end badly – with no prizes for guessing how.

Von Mayenburg structures his taut 100-minute play using 94 short, snappy scenes.

Directing the play for Stories Like These and atyp Under The Wharf, Luke Rogers punctuates the myriad scenes with sharp blackouts and a surge of sound not unlike the explosive crackle of fire (sound design by Nate Edmondson). At times the momentum falters with so many scene breaks but on the whole Rogers manages to keep the tension building.

Simply staged around a table and chairs (set and costume design by Lucilla Smith), Rogers puts the focus firmly on the performances.

The cast of five are all convincing, with Brown in particular capturing Kurt’s weird, psychotic nature, his face looking increasingly blank and his eyes ever more dead as the play unfolds, while Lugton and Miller give just the right weight to the black comedy, as the parents sidestep responsibility and console themselves with the thought that it won’t be long before their troublesome offspring leave home.

Though we may know where it’s going, Fireface is a dark, disturbing play. Rogers could perhaps ramp up the sense of menace a little more but his production is certainly unsettling and sends you home pondering what you’ve just seen.

Fireface is at the ATYP Studio 1, The Wharf, until August 17