The excited, opening-night hum of the foyer is quickly swallowed by eerie silence as we enter onto the stage of Fledgling Theatre Company’s Modern Jesus.
We weave around the actors who make no attempt to move as we take our seats and the air is thick with foreboding energy and hostility. The first thing I observe is the beautifully crafted set and lighting design (Liam O’Keefe) that turns the black-box space of the The Depot Theatre into a fully-fleshed, cluttered Sydney flat; complete with dying indoor plants and beer bottles. It is in this claustrophobic apartment that the action unfolds and characters begin to doubt and mistrust each other with no escape.
We meet our Modern Jesus, Charlie (Michelle McCowage) as a twenty-something woman struggling to make ends meet with a part-time job at Woolies and her veteran partner Luke; confined to a wheelchair and emotionally detached after serving in Afghanistan. Charlie is exhausted by the injustice of a life of hard work with minimal reward that culminates in her assaulting a homeless charity worker after her shift. What starts as Charlie’s breaking point becomes a tidal wave of anarchy within the group of could-be’s and the ‘Revolution of Inconvenience’ ensues. McCowage gives a convincing performance and does well to gain the audience’s support – an important feat in the prelude to her power-drunk downward spiral. Other notable performances come from Philip D’ambrosio and Jason McKell who, as Luke’s friends from the army, work beautifully as a team in providing comic relief amidst tragic chaos.
All actors are well cast and this is a unified and engaging ensemble. The integration of video projection is a bold choice that – whilst creating its own technical risks – adds an interesting and relevant layer to the show. Director Chris Huntly-Turner has included beautifully choreographed movement and live songs that – whilst at times feel incongruent to the action – capture the essence of being a part of something bigger than the individual; an important message driven home by the production.
The play runs in two acts and whilst the first act is a slow burn, the second lurches full speed into a sensationalised climax of blood, sex and tears. Suddenly these relatable and real-world characters are making melodramatic statements of sacrifice and martyrdom; our Modern Jesus offers her life to the cause. Fledgling Theatre’s Modern Jesus is a potent, topical work that attempts to say a lot but in this attempt some of its meaning is lost or confused. It is the epitome of educated, fed-up and frustrated millennials wanting to make a point. Alas, the thirst for justice is replaced with YouTube fame and instead we are left with self-indulgent pointlessness.
Modern Jesus plays at The Depot Theatre until September 2.
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