By Laura Money
Mentor and theatre-maker, Tim Brain has created a rollercoaster of a play complete with all of the thriller tropes – women held against their will, medical experimentation, abusive captors, and every twist and turn imaginable. He works with four incredibly talented students – some of them only first years – who created and devised The Hostage as a project together. This collaborative process shines through in the final product – a comprehensive piece of theatre that tells its story in a concise and economic manner.
Borrowing heavily from the thriller genre on screen, the audience is taken on a journey they should be familiar with. The set is simple – three bare-bulbed industrial looking lights, only one spotlight lit, a young girl tied to a basic metal chair, and a rocking track blasting from a transistor radio in the corner. Straight out of a Tarrantino movie, the girl (Melissa Escobar) screams a blood curdling scream, and bucks wildly against the chair – eventually breaking free and managing to turn off the music. This whole scene sets the tone for the entire work. It’s such a raw reaction – Escobar’s performance would not be out of place in a Hitchcock or Tarrantino movie. She gives everything to her reaction, and it’s not forced or over the top.
After discovering that she is not alone, Escobar is confronted by another girl in identical shift-like clothing (Ella Ewart.) Their clash is violent and explosive – neither performer holds back – they scream and shout and argue in an indistinguishable high-pitched wail – their voices intertwining in animalistic shrieks. After the two victims calm down, they enter a cycle of confusion and guarded dialogue – they try to remember who they are and how they got there. Repetition of dialogue is key. The same refrain and questions are repeated in an endless loop of frustration. At times the delivery is reflective, others angry – but each time we garner a little more information.
The audience is kept in the dark as much as the girls. Each time the door opens, we glimpse two large male figures – Jason Tolje and Jacob Murphy – who eventually menace the girls in different fashions. Particular praise goes to Murphy who walks the delicate line of torturer and carer in his tender facial expressions. Tolje is an imposing figure, yet resists leaning on his physicality to drive his character development. There are two power dynamics occurring here – one between the women and one between the men, and oftentimes ne’er the twain shall meet. With so many twists and turns, and repetition as a motif, it is difficult to see too much character development, however, the sharp and gritty script allows for more details of the characters to be revealed.
Brain said that he wanted to create a theatrical piece that spoke to the thriller genre. The Hostage is a fond homage to it, complete with all the elements that could only be found in the movies. Where The Hostage is successful is in building suspense through good pacing, long stares that don’t collapse into the absurd, and a set and lighting design that has taken its cue direct from the aesthetics of the greatest thrillers. It’s a visceral experience that captures the spirit of the genre and renders it more immediate – you can see the sweat dripping, the veins pulsing – you can feel the vibrations of the blood-curdling screams, and your heart hammering wildly against your chest. Not since The Sixth Sense has there been such a subtle and intelligent re-imagining of the thriller genre – twist notwithstanding.
WHEN: 23 – 25 November 2017 | 7:30pm
WHERE: Studio 411, Murdoch University (Carpark 4, 90 South Street, Murdoch)
INFO: Tickets $15 | Duration 40 minutes | Horror themes | Adult language | Suitable 15+