For nearly two decades, Red Stitch Theatre has been spearheading Australian ensemble theatre, showcasing an endless parade of new Australian and international plays and providing great support for emerging actors. Directed by David Myles, Wakey Wakey is the Australian premiere of Will Eno's latest play. A two person (though 95% monologue) exploration of the human condition and how in the face of our ending we may become the most theatrical versions of ourselves.
Justin Hosking's performance is stellar. A charismatic, charming, warm performance that is instantly engages with a raw honesty. Given the show is nearly entirely his monologue, Hosking carries the weight of a show that handles the heavy subject of death - however the weight of that subject is ironically the death of the script. The script isn't self pity-ing, it doesn't really ever allow the wheelchair-bound protagonist to acknowledge the sentimental losses associated with shuffling off the mortal coil. What it does do is acknowledge a very basic human instinct - to fill time with the sound of our own voice and entertain ourselves with pleasurable activities - when we become aware that we may not have as much time left as initially thought. Littered with dark humour, blunt statements of reality and glints of hubris, Hosking's ability to transition through the nuances of each moment is skilful, yet dulled by a somewhat drab script.
Nicole Nabout gives a very grounded performance as the man's palliative carer - perhaps one of the most admirable and difficult jobs that I can think of that doesn't involve gunfire. Although she does sit backstage for 95% of the show, she certainly isn't forgettable, providing a few delicate and powerfully emotional moments that pack a real punch right towards the end.
The fact that this show does so heavily centre around one man monologuing in a wheelchair does present a slight endurance problem for the audience. There's not much happening on stage visually - mostly a well dressed man in a wheelchair, slowly rolling around a white room with a few moving boxes scattered around and a floaty curtin (featuring an occasional projection) up the back. What I did find most disconcerting was the choice to dimly light the audience for the majority of the play. I understood this was perhaps part of a directorial vision to keep the audience 'in the room' with the actor. But on the other hand it did make me very aware of both my own self, and the constantly shuffling (presumedly very bored) teenager sitting next to me (Who knew it was possible to take your phone case off and put it back on so many times in the space of 70 minutes?). It is very hard to forget you're in an audience seating bank in a theatre, if the presence of that situation is constantly brought to your attention. On the one hand, that was probably the point, but on the other, it was extremely distracting - especially when there's not a lot of visual stimulus to keep you engaged (the title of the play quickly becomes somewhat of an irony).
Where the show perhaps falls down most is the pacing. Along with the very simple, clinical setting, there are many instances where Hosking's dialogue either falls away, or is filled with pregnant, thoughtful pause for thought. Whether this is the fault of Myles' direction or the script is unclear. It is difficult to stay on bored with a train of sporadic individual thoughts - no matter how humerous they can be - for an hour straight, from a man rolling around a vacant space in a wheelchair.
Wakey Wakey - Presented by Red Stitch Theatre
28 April - 19 May
Rear 2 Chapel Street St Kilda East, Vic
Photos: Teresa Noble