Terror Australis

Horizon (Playlab)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Underground Theatre

May 19 – 29

Maxine Mellor’s “Horizon” is an intense experience… not the type of show to be enjoyed so much as provoked by. It is a sensibility that is conveyed from even before its start thanks to an ominous pre-show soundscape and the gothic shadows of a darkened stage featuring just a single white line as video backdrop to its Ford Falcon centre stage feature.

Young couple Cole (Sam Foster) and Skye (Ngoc Phan) are driving the classic Aussie car from the coast into the heart of the country to Cole’s home town to visit his ill father. What starts poetically as a classic road trip journey of mix tapes and romantic enthusiasm, however, soon devolves into a tense standoff of mindsets, with debate and discussion flaring around contemporary issues. And as we watch the pair’s relationship struggle to survive the personal secrets that emerge, we are left considering what is worth rescuing as within even this theme, the story is filled with metaphors, such is the quality and precision of Mellor’s writing.  

The multi-award winning playwright’s script touches on dark themes from with our country’s tragedies as the couple learns more than they imagine about each other, including the story behind a cassette tape as old as the car itself and the real reason behind Skye’s motivation for a holiday distraction from fighting off brainless corporate zombies as a lawyer.

A 90 minute two hander such as this can be a taxing task for its performers, however, Foster and Phan work well both in volley off each other and also in the show’s many impassioned monologues. Foster’s, early speeches, in particular, are especially entertaining, delivered with a powerful rhythm akin to a gripping slam poetry share, thanks to his vocal enthusiasm and well-used pace, pause and emphasis for effect.

It is appropriate, however, that in addition to acclamation of the performers, the car so central to the show’s action also receives applause at the play’s conclusion. Rather than alienating its audience through performing sections of the story from within its front seats, the company cleverly utilises the central piece as part of the action, inviting the audience its world through choreograph of the story’s action in, around and on top of it as it rotates on stage, without it appearing gimmicky. And it does, indeed, feature almost as another character in the drama as it transports the couple’s relationship deeper into the ramifications of brutal honesty.

Also particularly laudable is the dynamic opening scene complement of Guy Webster’s sound design, David Walters’ lighting design and Nathan Sibthorpe’s video design, in realisation of the couple’s celebration of their newfound freedom with imagined new names and outlaw identities on the run in a world gone mad. Video projections also serve to track the passage of time through show of the bush drive backdrop as day sunsets into the velvet dark of night, also contributing to its panic.

As a two-hander “Horizon” is at its core an intimate story, however, it is also one of big twists, turns and technical demands within its apparent simplicity and speak to contemporary Australia. Under Ian Lawson’s direction, it is a thrilling ride not for the faint of heart, but rather those who like their drama with a bit of terror because once you’ve seen one monster, you see them everywhere. And though Mellor may have been commissioned to pen the Playlab Theatre production pre-COVID, it still remains relevant now especially in in its touch on #metoo themes, but also in its examination of the struggles and isolation at the core of personal identity (and thus relationships), from which, like our pasts, we can maybe never really outrun.

Photos c/o – Stephen Henry

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