Review: Debris

Toby Stinson 30 October 2019

It took a while before I noticed Michael (James Rodgers) behind the sofa, sheepishly peeping out from behind a suitably stained sofa and making unnerving eye-contact as the audience took their seats.

The image was set of a hard home and difficult upbringing, with toys scattered about the stage, one stained blanket over one worn sofa and a single, bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. This is Debris, the Corpus Playroom’s Week 3 Main, and the set design certainly lets the audience feel that this is degradation, rubbish, the fallout from some incident, that these children were growing up in. It traces the stories of two siblings, Michael and Michelle (Orli Vogt-Vincent), as they relate anecdotes from their troubled upbringing: disturbing violence, comic misunderstandings and the utterly surreal all in abundance.

This challenging two-hander is executed with dexterity. Rodgers’ opening monologue is manically captivating, replete with dramatic emphasis, comic timing and nervous ticks that hint at an unsettling madness beneath. His delivery takes the audience to the landscape of his childhood, convincing them they do see the fourteen-foot crucifix he describes, while the disturbing narrative that unfolds is cleverly punctuating by lapses into the colloquial and the comic, the timing judged to perfection.

Image credit: Cora Alexander

This performance is backed to the hilt by Vogt-Vincent’s, following one disturbing monologue with another of a different sort.

Her Michelle is full of self-congratulatory bravado, with a lack of understanding that lets the horror of what she is describing burst through in occasional lines, before it is forgotten once more, covered by the black comedy of chicken, plant-babies and a self-aware foetus.

When these two dysfunctional siblings come together, the intensity lifts higher, their line-sharing executed to add to another layer of dramatic tension and narrative distortion on to the already intriguing story. The audience is captured by their duologue, the words flitting from one sibling to the other, coloured and contradicted by both perspectives, overlapping and linking from one line to the next. However, as these episodes unfold there is an increasing revelation of these characters’ brokenness, their animated storytelling punctuated by throw-away comments that are distinctly heart-breaking: ‘I had seen this before…on TVs…This was how people lived, perhaps.’

Image credit: Cora Alexander

Lighting and sound punctuates the play, flashing colours separate Michael from Michelle and past from present, while music is used in bursts as a layer of dramatic irony, its happiness contrasting the often disturbing note left hanging in the air.

Despite this, Debris does risk losing its impact in the repetitive structure of the performance. After a few rotations of Michael and Michelle the audience begins to know what to expect and the extended monologues can begin to lose their boldness. However, the performance was just the right length to stop it getting bogged-down in its form, while the power of the deliveries and the intrigue of each unfolding episode was enough to keep the audience’s attention fixed.

Image credit: Cora Alexander

Underneath all the drama, excitement and black humour Debris shows two children who have been left to fend for themselves, piecing together life, emotions and reality, through the medium of a baby named Debris.

4 stars.

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