Allegorical Tale Winds Itself Up And Then Goes Nowhere. Disappointing.
St Kilda resident Ellie Hearst drew on the fraught experiences of her Jewish immigrant grandparents’ quest for Australian citizenship when penning The Mesh, a new work for Red Stitch Actors Theatre, directed by Paige Rattray.
A deeply allegorical tale, Max (Nick Masters) and Lotte (Ella Caldwell) escape from the emotional strain that’s clearly tearing at the edges of their fraying marriage by throwing an interminable series of costume parties, as if alcohol and flirtatious mischief ever papered over these things.
Temptation comes in the highly exaggerated form of Wolf (Kevin Kiernan-Molloy) and his rather fond of a witch costume wife Clara (Rosie Lockhart), both of whom find themselves drawn in a less than innocent fashion to the newly arrived couple. Hovering around the outskirts of these lavish social affairs is the nosy, biscuit-loving duo known simply as the Suits, played with great wit by the towering presence of Tom Dent and the fabulous Olga Makeeva. Without doubt the strongest aspect of the show, they offer both an external threat and ample comic relief.
Where The Mesh falls down, despite stellar performances all round, is in its impenetrable obfuscation. It is entirely acceptable to layer on the mystery and only hint at meaning, but to do so for the vast majority of the play, you really have to deliver on the big pay off, or at the very least give pause for deep thought. If, when all stands revealed and the lurking threat is resolved, it doesn’t feel like very much at all, you’re in trouble, with the audience prone to feel let down, if not outright cheated. Heart’s script isn’t up to the job, unfortunately.
Rattray does her best to salvage events, but errs far too often into the pantomime territory suggested by the many costume changes. Also disappointing is the spartan staging, essentially a plywood box with coat hooks, that’s on the wrong side of minimal so perfectly judged by Red Stitch’s magnificent previous show, Eurydice. A rare misfire for the company, The Mesh winds up feeling a great deal less than the sum of its parts.
Stephen A Russell
The Mesh is at Red Stitch Actors Theatre until November 8