In these pre-apocalyptic times, we like to imagine what will happen once the human race finally meets its match and its doom. Will we attempt to tie up loose ends? Will we finally realise what’s important and what’s not? Will we hole ourselves up in a cafe with an ex and relive our entire relationship together? Well, that’s what Second Chance Theatre‘s Scott McArdle imagines in Coincidences at the End of Time, which just wrapped up its reprisal run at Subiaco Theatre Festival over the weekend.
Coincidences is powered by smart dialogue, smart performances and smart staging. Writer/director McArdle has conscripted two of Perth’s finest, Nick Maclaine and Arielle Gray, to play Peter and Rachel. Peter and Rachel accidentally find themselves ensconced together in Peter’s favourite cafe while the world outside is quickly ripped to pieces by a giant komodo dragon and a mysterious killer fog. At first they are supremely annoyed at having to spend their last hours with each other, as apparently things did not end well for them. And over the next hour, we find out why.
Gray and Maclaine are fantastic scene partners; they challenge and support each other moment to moment. They are a good match without competing, they give and take, and best of all they listen and react to each other, fully engaged in the moment together. But you can’t have this excellent interaction without a good script to build upon, and McArdle has equipped them well. His dialogue is clean, with very little superfluity or extraneous material to lead us astray, and giving his actors room to invent. The structure is solid and well-executed with the aid of all the design and tech elements (thoughtful design by Sarah Chirichilli, plenty of incidental music by Drew Krapljanov and stealthy stage management by Daley King). In short, it’s the complete package.
Chirichilli‘s set is fun, with a topsy-turvy feel of a world turned upside down; a line of chairs hang every which way from above as if a single chair’s trajectory had been frozen in motion. There is a bed standing on end so the actors can climb in and out and we have an “aerial” (and an Arielle) view of their pillow talk from above. Boxes and various debris are strewn about, and the great thing is that the objects that decorate the set actually get used and become part of the action. Lights embedded in the chair trajectory light up as if we’re in an elevator, passing from floor to floor, each time we transition scene.
A clever bit of direction sees Gray turn on a radio only to find that it’s broadcasting nothing but the screams from people outside; it’s a surprise injection of black humour that keeps this dramatic comedy rolling. That, and the geek humour, the funny voice-overs from an old answering machine, and the actor’s excellent comic timing. Things do get serious, as they inevitably would when two former lovers get embroiled in rehashing the past without hope of a future. But there’s a satisfying feeling to these moments of conflict between Peter and Rachel, and we’re silently cheering them on, hoping they’ll be okay in the end.
Coincidences is a neat little genre twist of a love story…of all the cafes in all the towns in all the world, she walked into his…with a gas mask…