22 March 2018

Review: Colder

Red Stitch Actors Theatre
18 March 2018
Red Stitch
to 8 April

Colder. Ben Pfeiffer, Caroline Lee, Brigid Galllacher. Photo by Teresa Noble

When Robyn turns away to look in her bag, her eight-year-old son disappears at Disneyland and the happiest place in the world becomes an unknown world of almost unimaginable fear. He's eventually found. When he's 33, David disappears again.

Lachlan Philpott's 2008 Colder reconnects the writer with director Alyson Campbell, this time at Red Stitch. They work with their creative team to let form tell story. Their The Trouble with Harry (Melbourne Festival 2014) took us into the heads of the characters with audience headphones and a design that made the hugeness of the Northcote Town Hall feel intimate. But in the intimacy of the Red Stitch space, Colder feels distanced.

Before a word is spoken, Bethany J Fellows's design takes us away from a known world. Made of planks of wood, the back wall curves into the floor, letting the characters climb but always slip. It has a retro sci-fi vibe with unknown black edges blending into the white where it's hard to hide – but everyone does.

Bronwyn Pringle's lighting completes the design and makes the small stage look and feel like the unknown universe the characters are lost in, especially as the light behind the cracks could break through at any moment. In a work that changes place and time, the lighting lets two characters dance in a dark club in a pink glow while another (in reaching distance) stands in sunlight.

We're clearly in the character's heads and there's no room for the literal.

The literal is in the text. There's a lot of literal description. Two physical narrators or the characters themselves tell us where we are, what we're seeing and what they are doing; the intimacy is broken by creating distance. The repetition and explanation of the imagery (sealing life in easy-to-find Tupperware, life isn't a parade, being 33) becomes a distraction. There's so much already showing us the connections – especially the actors – that the repetition feels obvious and cliched.

We're told what we should be seeing, thinking and feeling. This doesn't leave space to feel or connect. We're told what's happening but aren't allowed into the hearts of the characters. Perhaps that's the point – no one really knows each other and we never really connect – but it left me ... trying not to quote the title.

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