Zigzag Street (Ad Astra)
July 23 – August 7
Before social media, one of the added devastations of being dumped was having to repeat your break-up story as you first see people and relive its angst over and over again. This is one of the dilemmas of newly and unhappily single 28-year-old corporate lawyer Richard Derrington (Samuel Valentine). So difficult is it for him to admit that Anna as left him, he can’t even tell the local Thai take away that his usual order is no longer under that surname. And so “Zigzag Street” opens to Richard alone on the couch of his recently-decreased grandmother’s Red Hill home lamenting about having basically blown his university days on one girl.
From its The Smiths song opener, the sensibility of Phillip Dean’s adaptation of Nick Earls’ bestselling ‘90s novel is recreated, with the scenarios revolving around Richard’s new cat and its sock puppet sidekick, soon making appearances. There are plenty of north side Brisbane references too, from traffic at the Normanby Fiveways intersection, shopping trips to Toowong Village and the evening haze above the iconic XXXX brewery, none of which really date the work.
While Richard is living at his grandmother’s house in the eponymous Zig Zag Street, he spends his time pretending to renovate the house in attempt to satisfy his mother … and not buying groceries. Nothing seems to go right for the hapless protagonist as he consistently contributes to his own woes as he tries to find his way again, dwelling on what might have been and struggling to see an end to his misery despite the advice of his friends and even the acquaintances whose paths he crosses. Sustained by his sense of humour and recognising that hindsight is no substitute for insight, he seeks clarity with a determination to stop defining himself in terms of his relationships… until he accidently knocks out a girl (Estelle Snowball as Rachel) and things start looking up.
The stage adaptation of Earls’ much loved fictional novel is an episodic play, made up of many short scenes which switch frequently between Richard’s grandmother’s house, his workplace, the local doctor’s office and various other settings. This ensures a pacey show, but also one which also seems to lag a little at times with its multiple entrances and exits and frequent costumes changes.
Valentine delivers a perfectly pitched performance as everyman of sorts Richard, endearing the likeable and sympathetic character to us immediately, despite, or perhaps even because of, his chaotic energy and very human character flaws. Never really off stage, he does well to articulate Richard’s inner turmoil, meaning that his narration shapes the show to sometimes appear more as a retelling from a trusted friend, so that in our hearts, like his friends, all we want is for him to be nice to Rachel and for her to be nice to him. And he tells Richard’s anecdotes with a humour that sits front and centre of the genuinely funny and engaging show.
Valentine is supported by a small cast of players assuming multiple roles. Alongside Emma Black and Lara Rix as Richard’s romantically off limits manager and bundle of infectious energy co-worker, Jason McKell showcases a great sense of comedy and timing as Jeff, Richard’s best friend, who has some of the play’s funniest lines around advice and in reaction to the silly situations of Richard’s life. And then there is Snowball as the decisive but quirky aged-care worker Rachel, who captures both the nuance of nervous initial date energy and the tenderness that comes from trepidation about showing vulnerability. And her outfits (Costume Associate Ashleigh Creeks) reflect her character perfectly.
Although condensed in plot and characters, Ad Astra’s “Zigzag Street” maintains the tone of its original text and Nick Earls’ witty authorial voice. Equal parts funny and insightful, its appeal comes from its articulation of everyone’s inner voice in an honest insight into human nature. And Mikayla Hosking’s sensitive direction, particularly in Act Two, allows us to sit in its pauses of real life. Indeed, amongst its humour are many are poignant moments, such as Richard’s (and later Rachel’s) reading of his grandfather’s letter, evoking his Somme battlefield experiences. And while it may cover six weeks of Richard’s life, by show’s end, it feels like we have known and loved him for a lot longer.