REVIEW: The Leaf Jar (The Studio)

Make like a tree and… [by Tim George]

The Leaf Jar by Alex Gleed is a story about contemporary relationships, and how they can fall apart. Peter (Carl Drake) dreams of becoming a writer, but has put his dreams on hold to take care of his sick sister, Sarah (Sophie Bateman) and to support his wife Christine (Karen Wharerau-Young), his wife, a nurse who recently suffered a miscarriage. Peter works a deadbeat job with his mate Greg (Jett Ranched), a recent divorcee with eyes on their new colleague, Karen (Kylie Newman), who has wounds of her own. Life is not great for Peter, but it could be worse. And then Greg gets accused of rape and Peter finds his banal existence crumbling around him.

About 10 minutes into The Leaf Jar,  I checked my watch for the fifth time, and I realised something was wrong. Seriously, cataclysmically wrong. The pace was off, the dialogue over-expository, the staging all over the place. The lethargic equivalent of a cold chill ran down my spine as I came to a terrifying realisation: This show is boring.

I wish I could phrase it another way, but that’s it. Nothing happens for the first act. I sat there waiting for something, anything to happen.

A plot turns up at the 40 minute mark and things finally kick into gear. Act 2 is a rollercoaster of soap opera cliches that, while not much better than Act 1, is far more involving than the ‘slice of lifelessness’ of Act 1. There’s corporate restructuring, infidelity, rape, suicide, life-threatening illness and a full-on poetry recital at the finale. And a jar of friggin’ leaves.  It’s not great, but compared to the joyless dirge of the first 40 minutes, it is a major improvement.

Nothing against the cast — Carl Drake is a bit one note in the lead, but his dourness works for the second half (when stuff actually happens).  Alistair Browning is fine as Richard, although he does not have much to do. The standout is Jett Ranchodd as Drake’s workmate Greg. He gives this morose enterprise a jolt of energy and fun. He takes all of the show’s best lines and manages to milk some genuine laughs out of the material. I still can’t get a grip on who Sophie Bateman’s character is supposed to be, but her performance is solid, and she seems to have good rapport with Drake.

Ultimately, the major flaw with the show is that it does not move. It spends 40 minutes lurching from one awkward, baffling exposition scene to the next, and another 40 minutes buzzing through a series of escalating plot twists. That latter section was involving but by the time we got to that part, I was in the same dilemma as Drake’s character — pondering the pointlessness of my own existence and waiting for some kind of resolution.

If you have the patience, there is some interesting material turns in the second half. But it is a long wait.

The Leaf Jar plays at The Studio (Howick Little Theatre) until 10 October. Details see iTICKET.

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