The Amateurs – Theatre Review

Jordan Harrison’s witty tragedy-comedy play, ‘The Amateurs’ revolves around a group of players as they attempt to outrun The Black Death as it spreads across Europe.

The Black Death is something that for many, is nothing more than a horror reserved for the history books. But the story that Harrison tells puts a face on the people suffering in a pandemic, that few other stories are willing to tell, and because these characters have been written and performed, as opposed to being stuck in books, I never once lacked having compassion, or investment in their story.

The plan for the players is to impress a duke with their rendition of Noah’s Flood in the hopes that he will offer them safety from the plague inside his city walls. A bold plan, but the alternative would be joining the piles of bodies that have already started mounting.

Directed by Susie Dee, the six actors create an energy that is outstanding. There are no negative words that can be said about this cast, as every performer is stellar with every single emotional beat being hit, and comedic timing that never ceased is a tonal shift that was never jarring, nor did it ever throw me off focus.

Perhaps the most charming and lovable is Brian Lipsons as Gregory, who is the special effects and prop maker. His main assignment is a mural of the animals marching two by two. This is the first on-stage character introduction, Gregory, sitting on the ground attempting to artistically render the special effect of the animals that march onto the ark, which will later become the stunning black and grey stage design with a 14th Century style that is both beautiful and haunting.

The moments where the actors perform Noah’s Flood is both hilarious and tragic. The stage props used in the performance, created during play by Gregory are gorgeous, teamed with lighting by Rachel Burke, all have a mythical effect to them, creating a powerful visual for the troupe’s final performance for The Duke

The fourth wall break after a darker point in the performance is a break from the bleakness of a plague-ravaged Europe and takes to the playwright’s inspiration for the performance. This show from a writer that discovered his sexuality and the struggle of dealing with this and the AIDS outbreak, as well as the prejudice that followed. As such, this scene is not just the break of the fourth wall, but it is an honest and vulnerable discussion of what inspired ‘The Amateurs’ and the way the plague is so much more than a just an excuse to give the story a darker setting.

One of my favourite moments occurs in this sequence, through a monologue performed by Emily Goddard. She was both hilarious for this and wore her heart on her sleeve. My companion and I were both laughing until our stomachs hurt and were moved as she talked about her dilemma of playing female characters that lacked character, which she then gave them in her own mind.

‘The Amateurs’ may have been performed on a small stage, but this show was by no means a small play. The true gravitas that came from every scene was a testament to why independent theatre should never be overlooked. The story that was told on that stage, as well as the dedication put into every second, along with the superb acting and the stylish set design felt intimate, with an obvious love and passion put into every detail of this production.

What ‘The Amateurs’ surprised me with the most, however, was its portrayal of humanity and the desperation and lengths people can go to when death is so close behind. Although, despite the desperation of the characters, they never caused harm to others.

‘The Amateurs’ had its Australian premiere this month at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre in St Kilda East and will be playing until the July 27.
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Photography by Jodie Hutchinson.

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