Unanimous decision [by Matt Baker]
The inciting incident that rings the bell in Simon Ward’s play is, unfortunately in today’s society, by no means a fanciful subject matter. However, the lesser reported, and unaccounted, consequences are a source of great dramatic material. A court-appointed psychological evaluation for an assault charge is an inevitably sure-fire situation, and Ward has written a durable 12 round psychological drama. Tension constantly bubbles below the surface of the script, and leads to a surprising, yet inevitable, ending.
There is a tentativeness in the extremity of Ward’s writing, however, it is not a disservice to the material (aptly addressed in the programme notes), merely the sign of an emerging writer finding his voice. The lines are incredibly natural, and both the actors allow themselves to process through them, creating a genuinely organic dialogue. Director Mike Lowe dictates the pace straight out of the corner, accentuated by a subtle yet haunting lighting design by Lydia Zanetti – though some moments in the beginning can be afforded the ever fearful yet powerful silence, and some of the physical breaks from the talking heads format, while all in the right spots, are not always executed with full emotional motivation.
Though originally intending to play the psychologist, Ward has broken through his past typecasting and found an entirely new avenue in which he can be… well, typecast. Since the last role I saw him in, Ward has transformed himself physically, mentally, and emotionally, and is, quite frankly, an intimidating character to behold. From his furrowed brow to his boxer’s gait, there is a constant fear that, at any moment, he will launch into a tirade of verbal abuse or worse. Ward also finds the lighter side of the play, turning the misanthropic boxer into a three dimensional character, gently revealing his humour and fear, without which would make him nothing more than a monster.
As the psychologist, Simon Wolfgram has a warm, consistent tonality to both his vocals and demeanour. At times, it feels as though he hasn’t quite found the full range of colour in his character, however, this appears to be a decision made in cahoots with the play’s twist, and allows for a still restrained yet emotionally resonant change for his character in the third act.
Said twist comes rather late in the piece, and with a 45-minute running time, there is easily another 20-30 minutes of unexplored territory. While Ward hasn’t pulled his punches or thrown the fight, he seems to have let the blood and sweat in his eyes prevent him from moving forward into potentially even more volatile and violent ground, as opposed to allowing it to fuel the writing to its aforementioned coup de grâce. Should a 15 round script be drafted, the play would make an undoubtedly successful touring production, both nationally and overseas. Even the most sports-orientated non-theatregoer would cheer on from ringside.
Thumper plays at The Basement until Feb 8. More information at The Basement.