An intriguing time piece
By Caitlin McGrane
An intriguing presentation as part of the 2015 Midsumma Festival, the drama is uneasy and disquieting in The Fastest Clock in the Universe by Phillip Ridley. The play opens as Cougar Glass (Robert Ricks) lounges luxuriously in only his briefs under a sun lamp; his friend/man-servant/lover (?)/lackey Captain Tock (Ian Rose) appears as the portentous messenger to remind Cougar about his birthday party. The unsettling narrative continues apace as Cougar has invited only one person to his birthday, a boy of 15 named Foxtrot Darling (William Freeman). The obvious comparison is to The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the first act is certainly reminiscent of the young man who cannot bear to accept responsibility, while remaining perpetually 19. When Cougar’s age is alluded to it is only Cheetah Bee (Brenda Palmer), the landlady who lives downstairs, who can soothe him. Inside the tiny apartment, as the wind screams outside, Foxtrot arrives with an uninvited guest.
Each individual performance was excellent, but Scout Boxall really stole the show as the hilarious yet bonkers Sherbert Gravel in the second act. Ricks’ increasingly deranged Cougar almost became part of the furniture while she dominated the stage with her handbag, and Foxtrot, in tow. Rose’s Captain ratcheted up the tension; his glee mirroring Cougar’s insanity. It was clear the play was set in London, so I found Palmer’s Australian accent slightly out-of-place.
While the first act was dynamic, interesting and dark, the second act failed to live up to expectations. It is difficult to pin down exactly what didn’t work, but it felt like scenes ran on for too long, and after a particularly affective split-stage scene, the mood of the play shifted into absurdity as Foxtrot and Sherbert remained in a desperately uncomfortable situation. Was that the intention? One cannot be sure, but by the time Cheetah Bee delivered her final monologue, it was clear that something had gone awry. A moment that should have been poignant became somewhat clichéd.
However, overall this production is gripping and edgy; Director Robert Chuter has managed to create something both wildly funny and thrillingly tense. Robert Smith (Set Designer, Graphic Designer and Producer) has done wonders with the small space; the set is imbued with a sense of unwilling decay. There is similarly excellent work from Tom Backhaus (Sound Designer) whose soundtrack is almost reminiscent of Blade Runner. It may need some creases ironed out, but The Fastest Clock in the Universe certainly gives audiences pause.
The Fastest Clock in the Universe is showing until 31 January 2015 in The Loft at Chapel off Chapel. Tickets are $38 Full, $32 Concession, $30 Group 5+ (+ transaction fee) and available from http://chapeloffchapel.com.au/melbourne-comedy-theatre-art/melbourne-events/midsumma-festival/the-fastest-clock-in-the-universe-21-31-jan/.
Be advised: The Fastest Clock in the Universe does contain some nudity and scenes of violence against women.