Review: The Last Great Hunt, Perpetual Wake ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 31 August ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·
Presented by local outfit The Last Great Hunt and directed by Gita Bezard, Perpetual Wake takes the darkest elements of humanity – falseness, lies, abuse of power and the urge to destroy – and turns them into a richly layered farce that comments ironically on the nature of culture, art and the cult of personality.
Written by Bezard and Jeffrey Jay Fowler, the narrative is engaging without being overly complicated; a story of a young women who has written a debut novel (Perpetual Wake), the pretentious male author-turned-critic who becomes obsessed with her work, and his wife, a romance author whose books, although hugely popular, are not critically acclaimed and are constantly denigrated by her husband.
As the story unfolds, bad behaviour abounds, and it becomes clear that everyone is lying about something. Within this nexus of falsities, the narrative of the play becomes messily entangled with that of the novel, further compelling the audience as well as the characters themselves to question the nature of truth-telling and the impossibility of objective storytelling.
Combining a self-aware, melodramatic narrative with moments of contemplative physical theatre, the play’s visual language is persistently striking, with a simple set design and the recurrence of motifs – antlers, fur, plaid hunting jackets – echoing through the performance. This continuing switch between narrative, plot-driven scenes and dream-like moments of absurdity and unreality effectively pushes the story along, despite the occasionally predictable nature of the narrative. This predictability is not a weakness, rather it’s cleverly woven into the story itself; a comment on the impossibility of writing anything truly unique in contemporary culture, and the reliance upon tropes within “low-brow” genres such as romantic fiction.
The characters themselves are incredibly well realised and outstandingly performed; simultaneously unlikeable yet relatable. There’s a strong undercurrent of feminist reclamation within these characters, as the two female characters, Fiona (Charlotte Otton) and Bernice (Arielle Gray) are both clearly much more intelligent than they are given credit for. This is highlighted by the fact that their “fictional” alter egos, referred to in the women’s’ published works, Veronica and Molly are both deliberately portrayed as laughably shallow and one-note.
In contrast, the male critic Paul (Chris Isaacs) is instantly unlikeable, a stunningly accurate representation of every man I ever encountered in an undergraduate English tutorial, aged by a few decades but unfortunately only in body, not mind. For Paul, it is a personal insult for a woman to be able to write well, and when faced with this reality, he does everything he can to deny it. For him, the truth is more complicated than he can grasp.
In its complex unfolding of the characters’ deceptions to others as well as themselves, layered within a story we’ve heard before but that never fails to engage, Perpetual Wake deftly and hilariously exposes the inherent predictability of human nature.
Pictured top: L-R_Jeffrey Jay Fowler, Arielle Gray, Charlotte Otton and Chris Isaacs in The Last Great Hunt’s production of ‘Perpetual Wake’. Photo: Dana Weeks.