Less silk, more crunch [by Matt Baker]
Jess Sayer has inarguably established a firm and justified reputation for herself as one of the leading New Zealand playwrights of her generation, so, when a play like Crunchy Silk comes along, I am torn between what is ultimately a good play with potential, and the feeling that Sayer has not packed her usual punch. That is not to say that her usual twists and turns, and symbolism and imagery are not skillfully peppered throughout the script, simply that they don’t seem to equal more than the sum of their parts when taken into account as a whole.
The themes, however, are not without their impact. As the play progresses and the world begins to unfold, Holly Shervey finds a nice variety of pitch and play in her performance, her constant wonderment never coming across as one-noted or irksome. Samuel Christopher finds some nice moments of emotionality, in what is possibly the most difficult role in the play, but lacks a constant internal struggle bubbling under the surface. Claire Dougan’s relentless internal process makes her incredibly easy to watch, and her avoidance of over-illustrating the more poignant beats of the play results in an appreciatively natural consistency in performance.
Director Edwin Wright has done well to map out the character journeys, but the lack of specifying the beats results in a slightly monotonous drive in what is already a passive script. Ben Anderson’s set design is reminiscent of the childhood theory that no one can hurt you under the covers, and the baby-mobile-like chopsticks have an uncomfortable certainty in their pertinence to the script. Rachel Marlow makes full use of the tools at hand in the studio performance space for her lighting design, although some of the fades can afford to be stretched out and less perceptive. Thomas Press takes a page from the horror-genre handbook and sets the tone of the play instantly with his manipulated nursery rhyme sound design.
The difficulty with this play is the element of the unreliable narrator, which has the potential to turn an audience against you. While this is an integral part of the plot, it can lead to too many questions arising from the actions which have taken place, and a difficulty in clarity of performance. In saying that, Sayer does not write scripts that are easy for either the audience or her casts. Her ability to lead the former down the garden path and allow them to think they’ve got it all figured out, and then flip things beyond their expectations, is a truly masterful skill for a playwright. While Crunchy Silk may not have the same catharsis as Elevator or Wings, it is nevertheless a show that deserves attendance, by a playwright who deserves support.
Crunchy Silk is produced by Junket Theatre and plays at The Basement until March 29. For details see The Basement.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview review by Candice Lewis