Director Alexander Berlage’s previous production, the self-devised There Will Be a Climax, trapped its characters on an eternally spinning revolve.
It was, he said at the time, “an ode of dissatisfaction”.
Whether by accident or design, Berlage’s follow-up, the Sydney premiere of Christopher Bryant’s Home Invasion, is another.
For its characters, caught on a different kind of wheel in this acrid satire on fame and obsession in the media age, dissatisfaction looms very large.
Bryant’s story is in part inspired by the sorry real life tale of an American Idol entrant who suicided outside the Los Angeles home of Paula Abdul in 2008.
The focus is split three ways. June (played by Kate Cheel) is a wannabe pop star of conspicuously limited talent who hops aboard the American Idol merry-go-round only to be humiliated on national prime-time TV.
Has it put her off? Not a bit. Defiantly facing the howls of derision on social media, she says she will only sing louder.
The second principal character is Sam (Chloe Bayliss), a teenager who become enthralled by June’s story to the point where she has become sexually involved with Anthony (Yure Covich), a mechanic who supplied June with a replica of the vintage car used in Abdul’s Rush Rush video.
Meanwhile, Anthony’s wife Carroll (Morgan Maguire) unpacks her dreams for her therapist – dreams frequented by the murdered child beauty quest contestant JonBenét Ramsey.
Cut with jagged scenes of guffawing Idol judges and narcissistic blog entries (voiced by Wendy Mocke, who also plays Paula Abdul), Home Invasion is caustic, cruelly funny and handsomely delivered in a spare but technically pin-sharp production.
Bolstered by Ellen Stanistreet’s excellent costume designs, the performances come at you hard and bright. Acting with metal braces on her teeth, Cheel’s unstable, unstoppably confident and hopelessly untalented June is magnetic. Maguire delivers the many personalities of Carroll with force and finesse.
Bayliss combines inexpert sensuality and a manic edge into an explosive Lolita-sized package, and there’s deft comic support from Cecilia Morrow (Alice, Carroll’s therapist), Mocke and Covich, who plays several pop-up roles beside that of the grease-monkey sleazeball Anthony.
With There Will Be a Climax and now Home Invasion, Berlage is very quickly establishing himself as an emerging director to watch.