Review: Dormant

Staged in Metro Arts—an actual arts/theatre space—Dormant doesn’t present itself as a quintessential Anywhere Festival show. The set is prebuilt and theatrical, the costuming professional-looking, and the lighting well-resourced. That’s not to say the show isn’t beautiful, though. It certainly is. It just happens to be beautiful in a produced way, rather than the punk […]

Staged in Metro Arts—an actual arts/theatre space—Dormant doesn’t present itself as a quintessential Anywhere Festival show. The set is prebuilt and theatrical, the costuming professional-looking, and the lighting well-resourced. That’s not to say the show isn’t beautiful, though. It certainly is. It just happens to be beautiful in a produced way, rather than the punk rock way typical of a lot of Anywhere shows. In Dormant, all the aesthetics come together to create a perfect balance of objects and colours that, together, make the backdrop to Dormant’s drama quite a painterly thing to look at. Which is fitting, given our protagonist Mia’s (Issy Jukes) artistic practice, which she is trying to advance from her place in this apartment.

Said place within this apartment appears to be one of subjugation. The villainous—and villainously-dressed in red and black—housemate Basil (Andrew Stevenson) is rude, domineering, and downright controlling of Mia. His dialogue plays into every possessive trope: he wants what’s best for her; he’s looking out for her; he doesn’t want her wasting her time—the usual.

While these tropes aren’t necessarily bad, because they are of course grounded in truth and reality to some degree, they do become a problem when they are the only traits given to a character. In this way, Basil is established as the overbearing villain of the piece from the outset, shown also in the acting, which is in and of itself an overbearing performance. Given the one-dimensional nature of the way his character is written, and the unsubtle delivery of his antagonism, Basil far too often becomes caricature more than character.

What’s interesting, actually, is that Basil’s character—moreso than his counterpart, new roommate Henry Williamson (Zed Hopkins)—suffers from a writing-based issue more traditionally found in female characters: exclusively existing for the sake of the protagonist’s story, rather than being a character in his own right. And while it’s nice that it’s a male character suffering from this for once, this doesn’t change the fact that it’s a problem within the text. For the play’s conflict to have any real meaning to us as audience members, we have to understand all sides as human beings, not just one of them.

Existing slightly outside the central conflict, Hopkins’s character is played with a much lighter hand. Neurotic and overwhelmingly polite, Henry’s role is one of comic relief and—despite his own set of issues—is the most grounded character in the play. In the way that he enters the apartment and its preexisting dynamics around the time the audience does, he naturally becomes our vessel within the text.

But while he’s a breath of fresh air, he’s not enough to save the play thematically. Not that the play doesn’t have themes. It has themes. It just kinda has so many themes that it doesn’t know what to do with them all. From ideas about what it’s like to be a young artist, to love triangles, to the the emerging symptoms of trauma, to life/work balance, to sexual abuse—there are through lines and there are lines that don’t go anywhere. In fact, there are so many lines that I kinda lost track and by the end was left asking of the play: ‘So what?’.

It’s all well and good to have a segment where the lead character waxes lyrical about the burden of choosing to be an artist, but not if it doesn’t add to the crux of the play. It’s all well and good to have a character who is a chronic germaphobe, but not when it’s only a flair that doesn’t actually affect any of the play’s other elements.

And that’s the big issue with Dormant. Not that it doesn’t have great moments, not that it’s lacking content or brains or anything like that—rather, the key issue is that the play is made up of so many different elements that fail to interact with each other, or build towards a cohesive whole. What Dormant leaves us with is a series of impressions—straight from writer/director Lily Daud’s mind—that are exactly representative of an issue encountered early-on in so many creative careers: having so much to say that you bundle everything together and make the mistake of saying it all at once.

You can purchase tickets to Dormant here.

This review is based on the reviewer’s experience of the Triple Threat performance on Thursday May 12.

Full disclosure: The reviewer is friends with some members of the creative team involved.

Jonathan O’Brien is a Brisbane-based writer and artist and you can see more of his work at jonobri.com and follow him @jonobri on twitter.