Past Production, Review

REVIEW: Nocturna | A dark comedy of other halves, friends, lovers, soul mates…pets

Review | Laura Money

Imagine a cat’s nine lives span the ages – eons of primordial earth’s newness strengthening its kitten bones, Egyptian worship giving it the confidence of the pharaohs, sharpening its claws on stone age weapons. Nocturna gifts the cat a series of epic past lives as she searches for her one true love – her soulmate. Slinky and confident, Molly (Alison Van Reeken) has been through every possible rendition of the earth and come out on top. In a blistering opening monologue, and interspersed throughout the play she tells her story in a spoken word rhythm that pulses and resonates throughout the whole work. Writer Ian Sinclair imbues the character of the cat with a cosmic magnetism – the wisdom and power of the entire history of the world fits under her fur – filling her entire being from tip of her tail to point of her claws. The script explores duality and depth – it looks under the surface and draws its strength from the very land it’s written on – wisdom and experience absorbed by the characters but it is equally about the mundane and how sometimes even the seemingly small things can be big if given enough time.

This is a play in two halves – the large scale thrumming of time and space resonating across history with its emphasis on the primal, animal, and raw – and a sitcom worthy comedy where the only ‘grit’ is who ate whose yoghurt in the share house. On paper, these elements seem too disparate to work together, however Nocturna brilliantly intertwines these two genres and styles – the large scale and the minutiae of human life intersect and even begin to influence each other. Mellissa Cantwell directs the piece with the precarious nature of this balance at the forefront. Opening with Van Reeken silkily clawing her way through black draped material, dramatically providing a non-space that sits outside of time, Cantwell elicits an ethereal reverence from Van Reeken so sincere that the change of scene is a stark difference – almost jarring. It takes a moment to adjust as the human side of the cast settle into a domestic share house comedy complete with comedians in the cast and Van Reeken becomes a house cat – purring and meowing only.

Stripped of her grandiose monologues and thoroughly domesticated, Alison Van Reeken presents the best depiction of an animal this reviewer has ever seen. She slinks about the stage, settles her hips and shoulders in a swaying motion, prods and pads at the ground or couch before lying down – all of these gestures are so familiar to cat lovers it can be easy to forget she’s human! Sinclair cleverly places the monologues first which gives Molly gravitas as more than just a cat. Taking a moment to adjust after the schism, elegantly handled by Norabelle (Morgan Owen) waking from a dream, the share house comes alive. Sean (Isaac Diamond) scoffs at Norabelle’s paranoia about the window and her discomfort at their other housemate’s penchant for walking around in his underwear. Owen and Diamond have great chemistry and Owen’s comic timing is impeccable – her character is uptight and riddled with Millennial trends like her apparent ability to lucid dream.

Sinclair has written a very convincing sitcom style play complete with rough and ready room mate Noah (Dan Buckle) and newbie adjusting to their surroundings post break up Suha (Alicia Osyka). Suha and Noah develop a close friendship early on and take on the world in a heartwarming attempt to cheer each other up. The language is bang on, and the acting proves that these guys just get it – from Buckle’s amazing ability to keep his emotions slightly visible bubbling under the surface, to Osyka’s rubber facial expressions these two keep the comedy ticking over. Every single performer should be commended here especially for their sincerity when acting alongside Van Reeken’s perfectly rendered cat. Every exchange is beyond believable – the sheer skill of every single actor on stage is elite.

Nocturna is perhaps the strangest play to describe. Part sitcom, part dramatic poetry it begins with a clear separation however as it progresses the two opposite styles bleed into each other permeating depth and profundity into levity and seeming shallowness. The immense scale of the mysticism of cats fold into the share house in the form of dreams, discussions of philosophy, love and loss, and ultimately retribution. While the banality of human existence proves to be the downfall of the once powerful feline. Elegantly performed, beautifully written, and intuitively directed, Nocturna is a masterclass of its genre.

The Kabuki Drop presented Nocturna in August 2021 at Subiaco Arts Centre

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