Saturday, 1 February 1997

No Man's Island by Ross Mueller. La Mama, until Feb 16, 1997

 No Man's Island by Ross Mueller
At La Mama until Feb 16, 1997

 NB This review was published in The Melbourne Times in Feb 1997


In crisis or in pain sometimes only a companion, a partner, a comrade can shift us out of depression or away from madness. It doesn't even seem to matter who the companion is. It is simply the sharing of the problem, the caring of another human, the warmth of another body or the sound of a voice which breaks the terrible spell of loneliness, loss and anguish.

In No Man's Island by Ross Mueller, two men are incarcerated and indeed isolated in a cell. Rob (Aidan Fennessy) is an uncomplicated, uneducated, child-like soul who prays secretly for his dead father and reads letters from a non-existent big brother. Tim (John F. Howard) teeters on the brink of sanity, screaming in his nightmare-filled sleep, pining for a lost child.

Initially, the two have clear roles: Tim is father, Rob is child. But as their drama evolves the boundaries become muddied. Their shared confusion and vulnerability, their social and psychological incompetence, their incomprehension of their human plight are the very elements which may save them. They are helpless victims in an irrational world but maybe, just maybe, their companionship may take them through.

Fennessy gives a compelling performance as the naive man-child, Rob. His is a moving emotional journey from playful, unthinking boy to shattered young man. Howard is edgy and unpredictable as Tim, always appearing to be on the brink of some wild and unexpected response. The two work superbly together. Their rampantly blokey indoor footy match is a highlight.

The piece is deftly directed by Peter Houghton with great sensitivity to the nuances of Mueller's script. Paul Jackson's simple scaffold design effectively contracts the space visually but allows plenty of room to move in the tiny La Mama space. The ladder up to the golden glow of the ceiling trap door is a constant reminder of the impossible dream of escape and the Heaven for which Rob wishes.

This piece is not all dark tragedy. It is a celebration of companionship with some very funny and truthful moments between men that reveals their weakness and their combined strength.

KATE HERBERT