Wheel of Fortune (Troy Armstrong Management, Optic Archive and Metro Arts)
Metro Arts, The Lumen Room
May 31 – June 9
From the heights of the perhaps now iconic Wheel of Brisbane, a 360-degree panoramic view shows the Brisbane river snaking through the city. It is an imposing visage that contributes significantly to the character of the city so represents an apt location to feature in some degree, throughout many of the stories of the hybrid of stage and screen production that is “Wheel of Fortune”. It begins late at night with a woman (The Public Servant – Meg Bowden) being followed along a riverside walkway by The American Marine (Richard Lund). From their one-night-stand interaction, the story continues through a revolving door of sexual encounters, such is the distinction of “Wheel of Fortune”, a play about playing in the city.
It begins with video image of the South Bank skyline’s Wheel, which is a wonderful metaphor for the show’s experience as, like a Ferris wheel ride, you will eventually end up back where you started. The story has ten scenes between different pairs of lovers, with a character from each scene moving to be part of the next, until the final interaction includes one of the characters from the first pairing. It’s a case of nine degrees of separation as we are taken along the journey of one night stands, fantasies, affairs and alike, featuring characters like an Irish Au Pair (Jacqui McLaren), a 17-year-old school boy, (Brendan Lorenzo), recently-married Biology teacher (Jacqui Story), her lawyer husband (Ron Kelly) and a newly elected politician (Stephen Hirst), amongst others. As skin is bared and sexy scenes enacted, the truth of the statement that we seldom know what is really happening in others’ bedrooms shines through (or in this case anything but, as, in the play that is all about sex, not one scene is set in a bedroom).
Although all members of the ensemble class do a decent job, some pairings are more memorable. The scene featuring Elise Grieg as The Portrait Photographer and Veronica Neave as The Stage Actress is a real highlight. Neeve, in particular, is excellent as a double-Logie-winning, now stage actress of self-declared undesirable age, bringing control, charisma and intelligent wit to not only this scene, but her there-after seduction of a local politician. Also worthy of particular mention are the performances of Ruby Clark as The Socialite and ambitious social-media influencer and Meg Bowden as The Public Servant whose stories bookend the show, leaving us watching the sun rise on another Brisbane day as she offers advice to the full-of-regret politician.
Although the vignettes traverse many emotions, thematically taking audience members to some sometimes uncomfortable places, they include many humourpus moments thanks to their clever scripts, written by Richard Jordan, Jacki Mison, Troy Armstrong and Krystal Sweedman. Interest is also added through the work’s integration of audio and visual screen work by Optic Archive. Combining the mediums works well to a degree. Film is used to effect to introduce scenes and to provide backdrop to the live action by showing familiar city locations, but is at odds with the dialogue as there is a clear and sometimes jarring distinction between stage and screen sounds. The combination is more settled in later stories which are less heavy handed with the device.
In its adults-only steaminess, “Wheel of Fortune” shows how in the heat and humidity of a Brisbane high-summer, it is easy to lose control. Its episodic nature makes for an easy-to-digest theatre experience, especially for those who may be deterred by the perhaps daunting length of traditional theatre works. And once its narrative structure of linked vignettes is realised, there is added engagement in how the stories are going to not only merge, but ultimately loop together over its 90-minute duration. This peek behind the city’s closed doors is not only about the politics of who is sleeping with who, but an illustration of how easily people can be connected. In its stories of Brisbane and those who play in it, “Wheel of Fortune” is both an interesting reflection on the contemporary world and a reminder that our city’s theatre scene is far from barren. For something new and interesting, do yourself a favour and check out its newly-told stories to warm up your winter.