by John Lombard
Side Pony Productions and The Last Great Hunt
Canberra Theatre, 21 September 2019
The Irresistible takes inspiration from the sci-fi horror of the X-Files and Twin Peaks, with the lives of ordinary people deformed by an unexplained supernatural power.
Actors Adriane Daff and Tim Watts co-write with director Zoe Pepper, and their collective creative vision has striking clarity.
Daff and Watts perform a panorama of roles, from airplane pilots to sex workers to an eerie child. The pair rapidly switch and swap roles, but this never disrupts the flow of the story. Each gives an exceptional performance with authentic character detail boldly presented.
The layer of gauze that blurs the action on stage together with effective smoke and light effects create a foreboding wilderness of the forbidden. The central mystery is also a fascinating one, with two sisters haunted by a light in the sky they saw as children.
Despite this, the dialogue is often impish. In the opening scene, two bored pilots discuss the banh mi served at a bowling alley. While the dialogue is fresh and contemporary, rather than garnishing the horror it sometimes spoils the tension.
Other parts of the play seem unrelated to the story or feel underdeveloped. One long confrontation between an erotic dancer and their love struck client is a great performance moment but is a puzzling meander from the story. An adultery subplot gets a splashy introduction, but no resolution.
Perhaps the intent was to use the genre tropes of supernatural thrillers as a window to explore themes of family loyalty and gender. But the eerie staging and build-up of a cosmic threat create an expectation that peace can only be bought through a final encounter with this force. Instead, some of the events feel ancillary to this central story, while some characters are left with their stories unresolved.
One character has a titanic encounter with a sublime force, but the fraying loose ends make the play feel unfinished, as though we just watched the season and not the series finale.
Heavy electronic alteration of the actor’s voices further distinguished the characters, but in some instances had a disrupting parodic unreality.
The Irresistible invokes the imagination and is a template for bringing the work of authors like Stephen King to the stage. This play has striking identity and displays the virtuosity of the artists, but rather than leading the audience to a terrible truth it strands it in enclosing fog.