The Feather in the Web soars outward – a hilarious, anarchic embracing of carpe diem – but also peers in – a tragic dissection of the obsession and cruelty of unrequited love.
Unlike other sets, such as the halfpipe delirium of Colder, the high tea strata of Escaped Alone, or the domestic calamity of Hir, Brynna Lowen’s set is deceptively placid at first. More a strip than a stage, there’s only a few chairs along the back wood-panelled wall, bookended by an exit on either side.
It evokes something almost kitsch – both unreal yet ideal as if lifted from an IKEA catalogue. With the aid of frequent shadow and projection play, Feather covers a lot of ground geographically as well as psychologically.
Michelle Brasier plays Kimberly, a relentless character who psyche appears to be composed almost solely of id. Aggressively driven by her desires, Kimberly is certainly impulsive, but never reckless. After a few random encounters, Kimberly falls desperately in love with Miles (George Lingard) who is engaged to Lily (Emily Milledge) and Kimberly’s fixation on and pursuit of Miles’ affections dominates her existence.
George Lingard does lovely work over the course of the play in slowly transforming Miles’ initial gentleness and innocent confusion into an ugly cocktail of apathy and unsympathetic cruelty. Belinda McClory, Patrick Durnan Silva, and Georgina Naidu played a variety of delightfully heightened roles; if they didn’t have the audience in stitches, they undeniably had them engaged by both lapels.
It would be easy to fill the stage with madness and have all the surreality smear together to form some beige, homogenised theatrical experience, yet Director, Declan Greene, has his cast drawing distinct characters and from all the pandemonium and discord across the show comes a kind of beautiful symphony.
But, the feather – as Kimberly concedes – is Lily, and Emily Milledge is brilliant in the role. Kimberly’s initial interactions with Lily are not really Lily’s choice, but at Miles’ urging they persist and Emily’s portrayal of Lily’s gradual awkward stepping out to engage more with the world contrasts wonderfully with Kimberly’s restraint from wanting to burn it all to the ground lest she stay in it any longer than she has to.
Other design elements – courtesy of Tom Backhaus’s sound and Clare Springett’s lights – lurched fantastically from calm to unhinged and back again. Also nice were numerous smaller creative touches throughout (such as having years pass by sifting time, it falling to the stage as one might shake flour in a sieve) that surprised you all the way to the final exclamation.
With this Victorian Premiere season of The Feather in the Web, Red Stitch kicks off its 2020 in the best possible fashion. Not to be missed.
The Feather in the Web
Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel Street, St Kilda East
Performance: Sunday 2 February 2020 – 6.30pm
Season continues to 1 March 2020
Information and Bookings: www.redstitch.net
Image: Michelle Brasier plays Kimberly in The Feather in the Web – photo by Pier Carthew
Review: David Collins