The Jasmine Suite – Theatre Review

A sparsely decorated hotel room in Prague, dubbed The Jasmine Suite for its Egyptian motif. A man wanders back and forth trying to keep himself busy waiting for the next part of ‘the game’ to begin. Just then, a woman bursts in bleeding from a gunshot to the arm! It looks like this game has suddenly taken a very real turn!

Richard (James Weir) and Kathryn (Amelia Nemet) are a young couple who have made the trip to Prague to take part in a revolutionary real-time, real-life game of clandestine spies. They’ve been given their dossiers, they have their target, and it’s time to play assassins! What harm could it possibly be? It’s all a game after all, an excuse for Richard and Kathryn to put on funny accents and become somebody else more exciting for a while.

But when everything goes wrong, they begin to question just what kind of game they are playing. Maybe they’ve been playing a game of make believe their entire lives without knowing it? Or rather the game of life has been playing them.

Directed by Steven T. Boltz, The Jasmine Suite is a stylish new play from playwright Michael Olsen and presented by The Knack Theatre. The Knack Theatre specialises in showcasing new and innovative works by emerging artists. This play has been in the works for several years now, going through various revisions and it’s finally show time.

At the heart of the play is a story of two people lying about who they are and what they mean to each other. As Kathryn puts it “Life can only be lived forwards but understood backwards”. As we’re introduced to these characters, it’s at the end of a series of mistakes and bad decisions which have led them to this point.

I hesitate to use the word ‘Tarantino-esque’ to describe The Jasmine Suite but the film director’s influence can definitely be felt in the production’s style and music. This is not at all unpleasant, far from it, giving the play a refreshing narrative twist. The story plays out in reverse and we see the events which led up to this botched ‘game’. With each scene, we gain an understanding of what is driving these two and a little more of the mystery is revealed.

Simple but effective lighting by Tobin Varley punctuates the changing of timelines in ways we can immediately appreciate and understand. The dishevelled hotel room as we know it is cleared and then re-dishevelled again as we see an earlier timeline play out. This was an effect I haven’t seen done before.

With such a tight two-hander play, the story is built around the relationship of its leads. Richard and Kathryn are fascinating characters for how they both find themselves falling into their ‘make believe’ personas, even as everything is falling around them, perhaps as a means to cope. However, later in the play when we see these characters earlier in the night, it’s evident that they’ve always been playing pretend. 

Weir is great as the childishly foolish Richard, or Ricardo the suave former gang member that he likes to play as. Throughout the story, we see him wanting to play this game if only to boost his own ego. When it is revealed that Kathryn will be playing the shooter and not him, he wants to switch just for the more masculine role.

Little does he know, and it’s clear to see, that Kathryn has him wrapped around her little finger. Nemet makes for a powerful femme fatale and we see that even when Kathryn “breaks character” it’s to her own ends. Actress Bridget Morrison will be playing the role on July 1st (matinee) & 5th but if she’s half as good as Nemet, it might make the show worth seeing twice!

An exciting and thought-provoking play, The Jasmine Suite explores the possible results of when people refuse to interact in a meaningful way. It features well rounded characters and a script full of twists and turns which encourages introspection. You’ll be left asking yourself, “Have I been stuck playing pretend too?”

The Knack Theatre’s The Jasmine Suite is currently playing at Club Voltaire in North Melbourne until July 8th.
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Photography supplied.

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