Jennifer Forever, playing at the Old 505 theatre space as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival, is not an easy show to watch. The story of an unnamed Man and Girl, it delves into the grey area of right and wrong, goodness and badness, societal definitions and behavioural quirks, and asks where we draw the line between tasteful and perversion?
On a bare white stage, Man (Dominic McDonald) and Girl (Gemma Scoble) enact a twisted kind of fantasy. He’s a lecturer, perhaps in behavioural psychology, while she’s been hired to not make assumptions and be exactly what he needs. But as with every relationship, good or bad, you can’t go on being that ‘something’ for the other person forever; there comes a time when you have to get out or stop acting and be yourself. There are shades here of David Mamet’s Oleanna, John Fowles’ harrowing The Collector, Hard Candy, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, Emma Donohue’s Room, the twisted co-dependency of the Stockholm syndrome. But whereas in each of these the dynamics of character and plot are harrowing, page-turningly, unturnawayably mesmerizing and unforgettable, Jennifer Forever unfortunately suffers by comparison.
Tara Clark’s script and direction are simple enough in that they don’t really leave many grey areas for audiences to puzzle over and fathom their murky depths during or after the performance. While its content is certainly confronting, it seems perhaps too neat and/or convenient to have Man break into lecture-mode about predation and the various types of predator-prey relationships. Dressed in a stereotypical school uniform, Girl’s worldliness cuts against her seemingly innocent appearance; while her strength comes from Man’s relative weakness (despite his tendency to moralise and lecture her and – by extension perhaps – us on our rights as witnesses), we never see either of them take flight and carve out a space for themselves. Instead they both pace like caged animals, their very predatory nature subdued, interrogated without much threat of escalation until the very end when the climax arrives with a bang. Or rather, a whimper, as instead of letting the climax sit for a beat or two, it is dampened by a quick fade in of muzak.
There is promise in this play, albeit buried under layers of unsubtleties and obvious choices. Although it seems [the] Man is a collector or, at the very least a connoisseur, we never really get a chance to empathise with him or to truly understand his point of view. While the opening scene has a tantalizing perplexity to it, we never truly feel that he or Girl are anything more than just characters, but rather excuses for the play to moralise and defend itself (the characters as much as the play) with repeated excuses and [re]iterations of the predator-prey lecture motif.
Theatre playlist: 57. The
Secret Place, Brian Eno