Theatre Review: (Extra)ordinary, (Un)usual – Storytelling In Solitary, Or Actors Get Mono

July 11, 2021

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(Extra)ordinary, (Un)usual / Directed by Faeron Wheeler / National Arts Festival 2021 / PG


A series of filmed monologues, performed back to back, (Extra)ordinary, (Un)usual is an interesting exercise in both storytelling and performance. It could be expected that a good monologue is something that an actor connects personally with – if they were to choose one for an audition, for instance, they’d likely select something they could identify with, as that would help them to remember the words and channel the required emotions.

Here, the scripts for six different performers – Amy Young, Kim R2, Gizelle Willows, Gavin Werner, Lizanne Peters and Matthew Newman – have all been written by a single writer, Australian playwright Pete Malicki, founder of The Monologue Project, a resource that provides short scripts for performers short on good-quality material to work with.

These monologues are not excerpts from a greater narrative, as someone might lift out of a Shakespeare play. They are all complete, beginning-to-end stories, including a twist (some fairly soft; some a bit of a gut-punch). As such, listening to the actors deliver their lines is like reading a traditional short story, but with the added benefit and enjoyment of the expression – physical movement as well as verbal theatrics – that do the job (on stage) that a reader’s imagination would do while they had their nose in a book.

Death and family relationships are regular themes (a curious combination, often dealt with via the blackest possible humour), with protagonists being variously superficial, cynical, odd and possibly a touch crazy. Those traits necessarily inform how the performers come across, with some more immediately believable than others. Matthew Newman, last up, is arguably the best, ratcheting up his intensity enormously as his character struggles through a particularly tough day. It’s worth noting that he has a wider range of resources to work with, incorporating different camera angles, cross-cuts and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them images that flash past, helping to create a subliminal thread parallel to the main story.

Solo actors speaking directly to you as a viewer make for strong connections with characters and stories, and an ease of focus thanks to the lack of distractions. This makes for some moments of unexpected unease as, even while you laugh, you realise that you relate strongly to someone who is, for at least part of the story they tell, very selfish.

(Extra)ordinary, (Un)usual is well worth watching, then, for its considerable value as a showcase for no-frills acting, powerful storytelling and the sharing of creativity on an international level.

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