Amy Victoria Brooks and Max Garcia-Underwood in The Split.

Stage

The Split review (Rumpus Theatre, Adelaide)

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“Jules and Tom are on an old fishing boat. They’ve borrowed it. It’s only pretty small. The anchor is down, so the boat just drifts as far as the anchor line lets it.” These words are projected on to the back of the stark white set for The Split, an intriguing new play from Melbourne writer Sarah Hamilton.

The scene is apparently idyllic. Jules and Tom are lazing in the sun. They have folding chairs, spread in a semi-circle around them are discarded jumpers, UV cream, a bottle of scotch, a champagne bottle on a long rope, and two mandarins. The boat is calm, or is it becalmed? Are they marooned? The maritime radio is turned off We don’t really know where they are, or why. But do they know either?

The conversation is languid and whimsical but there is an edge of anxiety. Talk of Doomsday people predicting something on the 23rd November. They ponder whether they could set up a green house on the boat to grow plants, or import soil to build an island. Things meander back and they slop UV cream on each other, play a game of snap and take a dip in the ocean. They talk about their half-remembered dreams, gaze at the stars, divert themselves with riddling word games, and take turns at testing and sometimes niggling the emotional anchor rope between them.

Director Charley Sanders and his company House of Sand are drawn to theatre works that have a cryptic, often disturbing chaos in them – last year’s excellent Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. for example.

This is a tightly managed production. Sanders creates space, and you might say courage, for this fragile text to unfold

With The Split, the discrepancies in tone are much more subtle and elusive. In the program notes he praises Hamilton for her sense of “the meditative, healing, loving hug that theatre can be.” The playwright says the play “is about love and change. It’s about bearing witness and staying curious.”

The often-inconsequential banter in the text is a challenge for the actors and they rise to it. The performances are intuitive, intelligent and brave. Amy Victoria Brooks as Jules and Max Garcia-Underwood as Tom navigate the ebbs and flows of dialogue convincingly and well.

Undoubtedly some of the verbal interplay has come from rehearsal and perhaps some of the frog extrapolations and other whimsies could be wound back. But the uncertainties, the probing for secrets, the moments of insecurity and resentment are believably realised and well sustained. When Jules goes swimming out of sight and Tom fears she is lost, his panic is palpable.

This is a tightly managed production. Sanders creates space, and you might say courage, for this fragile text to unfold – it depends on the slightest strands of implication and could easily turn to cobweb. The open, vulnerable white space stage is used to good visual effect for Kobe Donaldson’s subtle lighting tints and luminescent ocean projections. The sound design and composition from the excellent Mario Spate is again intuitively suited to the action and in the gathering final 20 minutes especially so.

The Split is play which, perhaps like the frogs, is an early indicator of the anomie and dread that permeates into relationships in uncertain times. Climate Extinction is not mentioned directly but is quietly implicit. The besieged couple on their shaky boat in the middle of nowhere, no-one at the end of the radio, are hanging on to each other for dear life. As we watch this ambitious, but understated little play, we slowly realise that we all are.

The Split plays Adelaide’s Rumpus Theatre until November 3.
Tickets: $22-$28, rumpustheatre.org

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