SYN Features: Polygraph
Directed by Tana Gerstle.
Written by Robert La Page & Marie Brassard
Performed LIVE at Theatre Works, St. Kilda.
Words by Kayla Hamill.
Passes provided by pubicists.
Content Warning: This article discusses a storyline of the play ‘Polygraph’ involving sexual-assault and rape. You can call 1800-RESPECT within Australia anytime for assistance.
Polygraph, written by Robert La Page & Marie Brassard and directed by Tanya Gerstle (OpticNerve) follows the story of the brutal rape and unsolved murder of a young woman, an event that entangles the lives of 3 people who are connected in more ways than they know. This part love, part murder-mystery, part psychological thriller will leave you on the edge of your seat, questioning what is real and what is not.
Set around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the play weaves in and out of Berlin, Montreal and Quebec and follows the lives of David (Grant Cartwright), Francois (Lachlan Woods) and Lucie (Emily Thomas). The political conflict of the piece felt somewhat unexplored in comparison to the personal conflict experienced by each character. Mentions of Berlin wall were lost to an audience who were drawn deeper into the mystery of the unsolved murder and those impacted by it.
The physicality of the ensemble was impressive. It was equally thrilling and uncomfortable to witness the effect that a grieving and tormented mind can have on the body through physical expression. The actors superbly portrayed that torment through fluid, twisted and visceral movements that felt dream-like at some points, as if we were in an alternate reality. Lines were blurred, crossed and created.
The cast were able to articulate the grey areas of truth and lies, reality versus experience and the destructive nature of self-doubt. This altogether familiar feeling rippled through the audience, leaving us squirming in our rows, attempting to shrug of those feelings that we recognise in ourselves at times.
You could easily see this play on-screen, in a film noir setting with jazz music softly playing as a silhouetted figure walks down a darkened street, mist rolling along as streetlamps flicker.
The ‘murder mystery’ in downtown Quebec with a cigar smoking detective at the head of the investigation, the killer always one step ahead, and innocent seeming people hiding hideous truths.
But alas, this dramatized version of my imagination was vastly different to the reality of the space in which the story was told.
The set was simple and stark; a bench, some chairs and a black metal framework covered with clear plastic strips for entrances and exits. This set design, alongside the simple blue and white lighting state created shadows that danced across the walls, playing out stories of their own. The ensemble had nowhere to hide, much like the characters in the play. This mostly worked for the performance, allowing the audience to focus on the action of the play rather than flashy set changes and lighting cues. However, at times the set felt too sterile and didn’t really lend itself to the grotesque physicality displayed by the performers.
The space also felt too big for this ‘metaphysical thriller’. It would be interesting to see what would happen to the players and the audience if the space were smaller, more confined, more intimate. Possibly the line between truth and lies, between reality and experience could be better defined through this.
Grant Cartwright and Lachlan Woods in Polygraph. Photo by Pier Carthew
Polygraph is playing at Theatre Works until July 29th. Tickets are available at the Theatre Works website. Please note there is a lock out policy, so make sure to prepare yourself for an 80-minute show, you won’t want to miss a single moment.