Flood is teeming with firsts: it’s the first production of Black Swan’s 2014 season, it’s the first official Fringe World show to open pre-festival (Fringe opens officially on 24 January) and it’s the first staged production of a new work to come out of Black Swan’s Emerging Writers Group. This might add a significant amount of pressure on this young team of creatives to make this flood of firsts a hit, were they not so well in command of their skills and talents. This is a strong opener for the year.
Director and dramaturg Adam Mitchell delivers another solid production for Black Swan, and he continues to show that he’s capable of servicing the material, and all the artists involved, without distorting it to his own ends. And yet he still manages to subtly push the envelope without hitting the audience over the head with his ideas. Flood is a script that has to walk a fine line and calls for a sensitive interpreter and Mitchell certainly possesses the thoughtfulness to see it through.
He’s rallied some of Perth’s best emerging talent, many of whom are also having their own Black Swan firsts; of the cast, three of the six performers, Joshua Brennan, Samuel Delich and Rose Riley are having their Black Swan debut. But make no mistake, even though these newcomers are fresh into the market they hold their own alongside the other three slightly more seasoned performers: Adriane Daff, Whitney Richards, and Will O’Mahony. This troupe of six are as full of chemistry as you could hope for and we are in very safe hands with Daff and O’Mahony, who continue to demonstrate the strong stage rapport they developed while performing together in O’Mahony’s Great White at The Blue Room.
As for the design team, India Mehta makes a quick and successful jump from independent theatre after creating award-winning designs for two Blue Room productions in 2013 (The Boat Goes Over the Mountain and The Tribe) and also marks her company debut with Flood. Her design focussed the theatre space on a multi-levelled desert oasis that has a neat trick up its sleeve. It’s extremely functional and allows Mitchell to create lots of movement and tiered stage pictures and the actors all move comfortably over it with their bare feet like kids playing on a playground.
Chris Donnelly’s lighting design is pitch-perfectly matched to the action and the tone, as is Ben Collins’s soundscape. Danielle Micich was called in as movement director and there is some deft choreography on display in the piece. It almost happens without our knowledge; a light changes and the actors have swiftly shifted to new configurations. They hit their marks perfectly in time and it’s wonderful to watch the movement sneak up on you.
The story Chris Isaacs tells is quite familiar in many ways, but his spin on the ‘I know what you did last summer’ concept is to bring in the race debate and tie the story to this particular land in Western Australia. The script is challenging and presents a raft of issues with few conclusions; it can be extremely difficult to continue a conversation on race relations, especially when there is no apparent representation on stage of different races. However this is one of Isaacs’ intentions, so we are left to question just how far his offering pushes us out of our personal comfort zones.
One aspect of the script I found particularly challenging was how much time the actors spent describing their actions and interactions with each other, rather than doing them. I do love a good monologue as a display of an individual performer’s talent, but I absolutely relish stage relationships and watching actors challenge each other through dialogue. The latter half of the show relied too heavily on description rather than action for my taste, with actors addressing the audience rather than each other.
Nevertheless, Flood is certainly a healthy start to the season for everyone involved.