12 October 2014

Guest review: The City They Burned

The City They Burned
Attic Erratic
22 September 2014

Review by Kevin Turner

Photo by Sarah Walker

The City They Burned was sold out and then some by the time I saw it. It was a hugely successful season for Attic Erratic that’s all done now and tickets were rare as hens teeth when it was on, so there's not much point encouraging people to see it. But the performances raised a lot of questions and discussion points, as seen on social and other media; so, let's dive into that.

It tells the story of Lot and the city of Sodom. Being thousands of years old, let's not be cagey about spoilers. Split into two incredibly distinct acts, Fleur Kilpatrick's text focuses on, the judgement of the city by Inspectors (angels) in the first act, and the life of Lot and his family after the destruction of the city in the second act. But it wasn't just the text that created the difference between acts, there was also a challenging shift in form. Here was where I most struggled.

The first act was a masterpiece of immersion and direction. Set in a dinner party, the audience were thrown straight into the action and, with barely any warning, were employees of the factory city of Sodom. Its fate was intrinsically tied to our own. It took a moment for that to sink in, but by the time the audience realised what was happening and how culpable they were in it then it was too late. Their city had been condemned and they had stood by; they hadn't merely watched, they had mingled and chatted while Lot and his cronies desperately tried to sway the Inspectors from their decision.

Here, credit for the fantastic orchestration of form goes to director Danny Delahunty. The organised chaos within which the audience found themselves was the perfect blend of immersion and distance, of safety and risk. It was a thrill to be a part of and left me wanting more.

The performances were also engaging, particularly from the secondary characters. Dave Lamb's Isaac and Brendan McCallum's Abaddon were particular standouts here. McCallum's Abaddon was a perfect foil for Lot (Scott Gooding). He established a genial and warm relationship but maintained the strong presence and motives of the working everyman. Lamb's Isaac existed in the background and did so beautifully. I found myself constantly drawn to him; a commanding presence in the work and one who never forgot that he could be being watched at any moment.

After the excitement that was the first act, the second was jarring. Now the audience found themselves in a seating bank, watching what appeared to be a straight play/family drama – admittedly one set in a cave following the levelling of the family's city and the turning of their friends into pillars of salt. This act was technically solid but after the rampant madness of the first, it was difficult to engage.

It felt like two separate plays/adaptations of the same source material. The text also started to more clearly show itself in the second act. No longer hiding itself behind the stellar direction, Kilpatrick's, admittedly exquisitely beautiful words, floundered in performance. There was too much poetry in the work, too much beauty and it cheapened the story of the family on stage. The second act was a disappointing end to a show that was so exciting during the first.

Despite that end, The City They Burned is a work to be immensely proud of. A huge congratulations to all involved and a massive thank you for the introduction to watermelon, prosciutto and feta, it really is "just one of those combinations".

My review.

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