Dead Centre is a new piece by Tom Holloway that reflects on and adds a new dimension to the 2008 work Sea Wall by Simon Stephens. Both are solo short plays told from the hurt of emptiness, and this combination of new/local writing with a known-but-not-seen-here work has created an exceptional piece of compelling and affecting theatre.
In this style of monologue, the character’s connection to the audience is intimate. There’s no fourth wall as the audience are the person – friend, doctor, priest, judge or stranger – being confessed to. As the characters reveal more and get closer to, or run from, the moment they have to face, the audience becomes an integral character in the story, because without our willing listening there’d be no need for the character to talk.
Australia’s Tom Holloway was commissioned to write a companion piece to the UK’s Simon Stephens Sea Wall, written in 2008. With works like Pornography, about the 2005 London bombings, and Birdland, about the destruction of fame (and just finished at MTC), Stephens has become one of the best known and in-demand contemporary theatrical voices – and his adaption of Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has won Oilver awards and most recently a Tony Award for its Broadway production.
Sea Wall is based on Stephens’s family and experiences and comes from a fictional “what if?” that leaves 30-something Alex (Ben Prendergast) trying to describe how he saw the life he knew end in a careless and blameless moment, and how this led to the act he’s most ashamed of.
Holloway’s Dead Centre starts with this story but is told first. Here 30-something Helen (Rosie Lockhart) tells us about leaving the UK for Australia and the lead up to her breakdown as the sun rises at Uluru and her world becomes red. The style’s a step more distant that Stephens’s, but the distance makes her final breaking more personal, as the audience imagine what left such pain.
With some background action and a digital projection (by Katie Cavanah onto Matthew Adey’s design,) Julian Meyrick’s direction asks and answers more questions than are directly addressed in the text, while he lets the actors find the heart-twisting and exposing balance between self and character that makes Alex and Helen far more then Prendergast and Lockhart.
There’s room to hold back more, as the on-stage extras create breathing space away from the stories, but the space is welcome and may be the comfort that creates the only hope that they’ll not fall so far.
And it is hope that drives these stories; hope that their story isn’t what we imagine because Helen and Alex have chosen us to confess to and, willingly or unwillingly, become our friends.