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Between Two Waves - review

Between Two Waves - review

There’s a moment, late in this play, which is quite marvellously theatrical. I won’t give it away, but it is striking and unsettling (those are good things), and it’s a metaphor for the themes of the play (also a good thing), and it sweeps away some other things that, by this stage in the story, you might be fretting over a little. It really is a terrifically strong moment on the stage, and well worth experiencing. They can do this? How do they do it? It’s the wonder of theatre.

This is a play about climate change. Daniel, a scientist with major anxiety issues, takes a job with the government to try to push them in the right direction, and at the same time attempts to have a relationship. I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that neither venture goes well.

Emmett Skilton, always charming and apparently naturally anxious on screen, carries all those properties onto the stage. It’s harder than it might look to act the ordinary guy, and he’s good at it. Shara Connolly is well matched as his romantic foil, Fiona, and the two of them march the play along with an entertaining and endearing chemistry.

So what might make you fret? For one, the relationship of public and private – of Daniel’s apocalyptic world view and his emotional panic – is a little awkward. Yep, he’s fucked up and so is the world. But it’s an obvious trope and it means less than it’s supposed to.

For another, the play has a thing going on about time, thematically and also in the way it chops up the linear story, which is also a bit awkward. This is a simple story made complex by virtue of having its timeline deconstructed, but that device doesn’t provide as deep an emotional payoff at the climax, when the “what really happened” things are revealed, as it should. And while the play reaches for some grandiose time-related themes – Einstein’s relativity, alternative universes and all that – that stuff is more clever than genuinely insightful.

Mainly, though, those things come to the fore because the emotional predicament of Daniel and Fiona doesn’t. It’s not the actors – I’ve already said they handle it well – but it is a problem in the writing and, I think, in the production. We don’t connect as deeply as we should. As the climax approaches, we should long desperately for the happiness of these people, and I don’t think I was alone in the theatre in discovering that I didn’t.

It’s the great challenge facing all polemical theatre: how to stop the message trumping the drama; how to ensure the seriousness of the cause doesn’t drive out the light and shade.

Don’t get me wrong. That message is important and it is forcefully presented by Skilton in a great drunken rave that sits compellingly at the very heart of the work. This is a timely play, for sure. It may not be the life-changing experience the company wants it to be, but it’s smart and often entertaining, and what it has to say about our future is disturbing.

Between Two Waves runs until August 15. aucklandlive.co.nz

 

Theatre