Off-script: MKA & Griffin Independent’s The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe’

Like the simplest acts of theatre, The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe’ unfolds upon the very stage in front of us, in something akin to real time. There is no hiding, no wings, no real fourth wall to hide behind; just five people on stage. Initially taking the form of a staged-reading of a new script, ‘Joe’ soon descends into an extended meta-theatrical exercise which will have you questioning the veracity of what you are witnessing. Is it really what it seems?
Written by Zoey Dawson and presented by Melbourne’s MKA: Theatre of New Writing and Griffin Independent, ‘Joe’ is directed by Declan Greene with his trademark verve and a glorious anarchic sense of self-satire. Not so much in his own work as a director and playwright, but within the theatrical landscape as a wider field. After an extended opening address by the director of the staged reading, the reading-proper begins and although it is funny, awkward and satirical, the lines between reality and artifice are irrevocably blurred, and – bravely – even the ending doesn’t provide answers.

While Zoey is played by Nikki Shiels, the rest of the cast - Natasha Herbert, Matt Hickey, Annie Last, and Aaron Orzech – are essentially playing versions of themselves, insofar as the characters are named. With stage directions read on-stage (during the reading), and actors going seemingly off-script, there is a high degree of (controlled) chaos and mess which is more than embraced by Greene and the cast. To explain any more about the show would be to ruin its magic and remove the cleverness and seductive rabbit-hole of shifts in the meta-theatrical texture of Dawson’s play.
As with meta-theatre though – theatre which uses its own conventions to draw attention to others; theatre which makes obvious its theatricality and constructed nature – there are moments where this could be exaggerated, where Greene and Dawson could have pushed this further and to greater (and perhaps more astonishing) effect. Which is not to say that the play did not work, because it worked marvellously; it’s just that it could have made more of its opportunity and played more with expectations and form. As it stands, it more than provides a strong sure footing for another year of new writing at Griffin

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