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Published on Friday, 09 August 2013

4 stars

Bedlam Theatre (venue website)
2-24 Aug, 9:00pm-10:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.

This loveably eccentric new play from last year’s Fringe darlings, DugOut Theatre, blends together the comic, the tragic and the somewhat absurd. Its shamelessly intelligent plot sees a young theatre columnist, Danny, arrive to interview an up-and-coming film director – only to discover that man himself has slightly different ideas. Along the way, Danny rekindles an old romance, visits a far-off island, and even takes on the Bard – but there’s a hint of darkness to his story too, which never quite fades away.

A lot of Fade’s fun derives from its unexpected swerves: the moments when the action pauses, the lights flick up, and the actors do something entirely unexpected instead.  I don’t want to spoil too many surprises, but you will be meeting the voice of Danny’s subconscious – personified (obviously) as a cross between a surf dude and Captain Jack Sparrow.  More laughs are provided by a shambling roadie, who thinks he’s cool but quite simply isn’t; and occasional outbreaks of on-stage music further add to the chaotically upbeat mood.

But it’s to DugOut’s great credit that, among all these comic interludes, they manage to keep their grip on a deeply serious plot.  We learn soon enough that Danny has secret vulnerabilities – a fact that’s reinforced by a tenderly nervous monologue about lost love, one of many spotlit moments from the note-perfect Will Barwick.  As the evening wears on, big-hearted Danny suffers a series of minor agonies, before he finally retreats into a medicated haze and his own fantasy world.  And what does a theatre columnist fantasise about?  Nothing less than rewriting Hamlet.
We hope, of course, that he’ll conquer his demons, and find it within himself to change his own narrative too.  But is that why Danny is really here?  There’s a delicate thread of mystery sewn through the whole plot, and the answer to the riddle proves both satisfying and gut-wrenching.  The last thirty seconds, however, are simply unpleasant, and oddly at variance with the show’s prevailing tone.  It’s an ending that’s shocking rather than thought-provoking; it overpowered the good work that had gone before, and I wished they’d found a bit more finesse to round out such a well-balanced play.

Because this is a warm, open, engaging show, and that final shuddering image isn’t the one I want to take away.  I want to remember the moments when anything seemed possible: when Danny dared to change what had been written, to take a story that ends in death and despair and decide that, in his hands, it would all turn out OK.  I laughed at Fade – laughed a great deal – but it gave me something to believe in too.  Let’s trust that it’s possible to change our fate; let’s all rewrite Hamlet.

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