“It’s rare to see a production that reaches for the stars and manages to harness them in its quest for excellence.” Stage Whispers
Review By Stage Whispers
Two statements that are generalisations but nonetheless
1) Great theatre is exhilarating and transcendent. It touches something deep inside, enlightening and elevating each member of the audience.
2) Great theatre is as rare as hen’s teeth. Well it maybe rare, but it’s not difficult to find – in this case it’s just a short trip to Chapel off Chapel.
The†Exonerated†– constructed in the same style as The†Laramie†Project, from interviews with actual ex death-row prisoners – is a harrowing but ultimately uplifting play. Six prisoners, who were innocent but sat on death row for years before they were freed, tell their stories simply and without histrionics, which makes them even more poignant.
The denouement of “Sunny”s story is gut-wrenching and heartbreaking. But it is the production itself that makes this stunning theatre.
Producer/Director Andrei Schiller-Chan, whose background is in film, not stage, has assembled a superlative ensemble of ten actors and then directed them with taste and passion and with a confidence that belies his lack of theatre experience. This is fine work, and it’s clearly an act of integrity too. Chan believes in the cause, no more death penalty – and seeing the play makes it doubly difficult to raise any objection to that stance even if one felt inclined (I certainly don’t). He has also drawn from his cast exceptional performances that come from truth. No overt technique at work here – just honesty, and that’s what good acting should always be about. It’s rare when an entire cast is so good that there is no weak link at all, and it’s impossible to put labels of BEST or OUTSTANDING on anyone. So I will try to encapsulate each performance in a few words. Garikai Jani, a mountain of a man, plays the artist;; the poet caught in the wrong place at the wrong
time. He is powerful and charismatic, yet full of gentle spirituality - Superb. Jordan Armstrong, the heartbreaking innocent suspected of being gay and thus brutalised in prison – Superb. I cried openly at his pain – and so did he. Vuyo Loko, as a successful man
whose career and future were stripped from him in a wrongful conviction – full of authority and Superb. Are You seeing a pattern here? Diana Brumen plays a variety of roles, all of them beautifully drawn and tempered with honesty – also superb;; Karla Hillam as the hippy who nonetheless forgives and tries to give something back in her husband’s name (his is perhaps the most horrific execution in history) – just marvellous. Noray Mohammed, with the sad and defeated eyes of the man who has given up on life and yet somehow, deep inside, still believes in miracles – stunning. Joseph Green – the hillbilly who is tricked into believing perhaps he actually did kill his parents – wonderful. Ben Taylor, in a variety of roles - all of them calling for very different characterisations is fabulous, but especially good as the monster who cuts a deal and blames someone
else for his crimes. Sam Lavery – a skilled actor who impresses in each of his roles;; Noelle Roeg, beautiful and talented and totally convincing throughout. It’s an exemplary cast.
Travis McFarlane has given us a lighting plot that is integral to the storytelling. Though monochrome, it provides movement and colour to what could otherwise, in lesser hands than his and Chan’s, be quite a static production. I can’t speak highly enough of his understanding of the text, and the emotional depth of his lighting. It’s quite extraordinary and integral to the overall excellence of the production.
Hanna Read’s set – with its upstage dais in darkness behind a black scrim, and its grouping of chairs and suggestion of six different homes - is masterful. Paul Raine’s sound,
including the background effects, is perfect.
It’s rare to see a production that reaches for the stars and manages to harness them in its quest for excellence. This is Sol3’s first production but I hope it won’t be its last. You will be touched and made to feel humble, angry, ashamed, heartbroken, and a hundred
other emotions you didn’t see coming. Is it relevant in Australia, where we don’t have the death penalty? (I can’t believe some “reviewers” have actually asked that question). Is the Holocaust still relevant? Is injustice anywhere at any time relevant? Those questions are rhetorical. You have just one more week to experience The†Exonerated.
Don’t see this play because it has a message….see it because it is superb theatre!