Flame Trees at Theatre Works

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By: Kelly McConville

Going to the theatre is an exciting thing. You never quite know what to expect but you always hope to see something new that can intrigue or even get you a little fired up. Whether it be an interesting plot or characters, clever direction or stellar performances, whatever it is, theatre should always be thought-provoking. It should at the very least be relevant and involve some brave choices.

‘Flame Trees’, Wayne Tunks’ latest offering on now at Theatre Works, certainly has an interesting premise. What happens when Tess returns to her small country town after being locked up for confessing to lighting a bushfire that devastated her community and killed her best friend? She returns to find her ex-fiancé engaged to a local policewoman and her mentally challenged brother living with their aunty who has publicly denounced her. What follows is a story of the past colliding head-on with the present and revelations that tear lives and relationships apart, but also offer new beginnings.

The relevancy of a play about bushfires is unquestionable, especially at this time of year. The devastation bushfires cause the inhabitants of small towns affected by them is made poignantly apparent in this piece. The tensions between the characters that have been left simmering for ten years erupt on stage with an honesty created via some convincing acting.

James Mason (Neighbours’ Chris Pappas) makes his theatrical debut playing a firefighter with a short fuse. He plays the initially likeable character with equal measures of empathy and subtlety that are impressive. His onstage relationship with his brother played by Matt Candeland (Fag Boy and The Married Guy) has some genuine moments. Hannah Gott plays the beleaguered Tess with careworn restraint.

At times, the language made for a play that felt like a soap-opera in its simplicity of dialogue and resolutions. This appeared to hinder the depth of performances the cast were able to deliver. Whilst some aspects of the relationships between the characters seemed realistic and well-crafted, key moments of resolution seemed far too easily come to. Such lack of depth points to issues with the script, rather than performances of the actors.

The three-part set added to the simplicity of the show. Single windows and modest set-pieces denoted a police station, living room and pub. This decision meant not only that the spaces in which much of the action took place were confined to a small third of the stage but also it was doubly incumbent on the actors to deliver the script with depth and vigour. Helped little by any sort of stagecraft devices (save for red lighting when a fire was burning), one couldn’t help feel the director had left the cast high and dry in terms of giving them much to work with.

Overall, the premise and the performances showed promise. The decisions that were made in terms of the play’s staging and writing however, involved little theatricality. One could argue this script could have done better on screen, with camera angles and devices that could have heightened the emotional aspects of the story. Ultimately, Theatre Works’ latest display of local work is innately Australian and relevant in its themes but could do to be a little more fiery and brave in its theatrical choices.

‘Flame Trees’ is on at Theatre Works until March 16th. Visit www.theatreworks.org.au for bookings.

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