Review / ‘Noir’ play without conviction

Theatre/ “Highway”, by Alexandra Howard and Cole Hilder, Directed by Peta Lioulious for LEXX Productions, at Belconnen Community Theatre, 7.30pm  September 1-3, 2pm September 2, Bookings to or 6242 5044. Reviewed by Helen Musa

THIS IS a raw production of a raw play.

Andrew McMillan, Cole Hilder as the two detectives. Photo by Michael Jackson-Rand

Andrew McMillan, Cole Hilder as the two detectives. Photo by Michael Jackson-Rand

Styled in the manner of film noir, the play introduces to us to a bored, shambolic but ambitious detective in a small town which, from the accents, is most unlikely to be Australia.
Detective Benny (Cole Hilder) and his sidekick Jack (Andrew Macmillan) are cardboard figures with little character who call each other “pardner” and swig too much whisky.

The plot thickens when they find the body of a beautiful, badly bruised young woman (Alexandra Howard) on the highway which runs straight down the centre of the stage dividing the cop-shop from Benny’s home. It prove to be his highway to oblivion.

What ensues is a familiar scenario going at least back to “The Turn of the Screw,” as the ghost of the young woman – probably Benny’s delusional fantasy– takes over, dominating and drawing him to the brink.

Is this what Hamlet would have called an “honest ghost”? Certainly not, not and what is more, although the beauteous apparition reminds Benny that she exists only in his mind, she is capable of kissing, having sex, and holding a real weapon. This was confusing.

The playwrights have embraced stereotype but not detail. Benny sometimes calls his wife Ellen and sometimes Helen. Well into the action we find out that they have children, but they are off stage and never figure in the plot.

The dialogue is clichéd; the pace is slow,  but without nuance. Ellen/Helen (Jennifer Lu) says, “I may not be a smart as you but don’t play me for a fool.” The pretty secretary Sandra (Nyssa Mitchell) says, “You can’t fool me Jack,  I know you too far too well for that.” Benny tells the ghost,  “you have turned me into a monster.”

These are not well-delineated characters, indeed both the script and the staging lack specificity, so that the location could be almost anywhere. The telephones and the old-fashioned radio suggest the 1930s or 40s, but references to kilometres suggest more recent times.

Staging a full-length original play is a huge undertaking for an inexperienced company evidently more familiar with TV than theatre. It needed more care.


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