Not a Very Good Story
Review by Susie Conte
This one-woman show is inspired by the real life cancer cluster at the ABC Studios in Toowong, Queensland. Written and performed by May Jasper, an internationally touring performer, published playwright and winner of the inaugural Moth StorySLAM in Melbourne.
The set is unassuming: an old school overhead projector, and a giant white X on the floor. Jasper plays Stephanie as an awkward, shy, borderline autistic young lady. She stands on the X religiously to tell us her story, which is teased out slowly. She works in a car rental agency call centre, in a circular pod with a cast of interesting misfits. We learn that she has only just come back to work after an illness, although we are not sure what kind.
Jasper sets the scene with great detail of this office and its politics, and the characters that surround her. She falls in love with the janitor, Jen, and we finally learn that she is recovering from breast cancer. More cases start to crop up amongst her colleagues and the group start to suspect the office is making them sick. It is an awful story, made all the worse by the fact the management refuse to believe there is a problem and when they finally capitulate, no evidence is found for the cluster of illness. People start to die.
This show is a tale of two stories. The characterization is superb, in the early parts of the play we get a real sense of Stephanie and her cohorts, and their day to day life in the car rental agency. The second half becomes a different beast. The paradigm changes – where Jasper told us her story in the beginning, she starts to act out the characters in the latter stages, and it feels a bit jarring. She launches into a breast cancer seminar and it feels less moving at these points. It is not always clear who she is talking to.
Jasper plays Stephanie as very sweet and naïve. She has a beautiful smile and we see it best when she falls in love with Jen. The show hinges on her performance and she is very watchable. It seemed the overhead projector could have been used to better effect and it is a tad overlong, but the overall effect is one of sweet storytelling.
My biggest bugbear was the ending. Jasper asked us to stop our applause so she could quickly tell us of other shows we should watch at Fringe. I like to applaud a performance I have enjoyed. I am still in the world they have created and this ruined those last moments for me.