Theatre: Rock, Paper, Scissors


Written by John AD Fraser

Directed by Leland Kean

Starring: Phil Spencer, Rob Flanagan and Sean Barker.


The idea of three men confined in a tiny lighthouse, on a tiny island for a month is scary. There is no Masterchef, True Blood or Facebook and that’s real terror right there. But the men of Rock, Paper, Scissors manage to keep their wits about them, a stunning feat when all they have to keep them occupied is their work, their repetitive cuisine and a few board games. Of course, it’s not all roses. Dougie (Phil Spencer) arrives by helicopter to the tiny rock in the middle of the ocean and meets with the two current lighthouse keepers – fatherly Pat (Rob Flanagan) and the very masculine Ronnie (Sean Barker). Dougie, fresh from university is a nicely nuanced wise fool, dismissive of the advice of his elders and downright arrogant sometimes. His head butts repeatedly with Ronnie, a light-keeping stalwart and often aggressive co-worker. Looming overhead for all the men is job insecurity, as the mainland has taken to automating lighthouses without regard for the men who keep them. This contemporary concern is weaved well with themes of masculinity and family into John AD Fraser’s very small play – Rock, Paper, Scissors is but sixty minutes long.

As a comedy, the play works best. There are some good laughs to be had but it runs into some problems when the play tries to move beyond those borders- from light natured comedy into serious drama. The main obstacle is Fraser’s writing. The dialogue is often obtuse and lacks flow, but the tight cast of three manage to make it work. Flanagan in particular gives a charmingly warm performance laced with subtlety. But behind him is a laundry list of flaws. Some are mild annoyances which get bigger, like the scene structure and incongruous time shifts (often across a full month) which make the play feel like a series micro scenes or vignettes, each with full beginning, middle and end. Director Leland Kean has compounded this with a series of total blackouts, making the play feel terribly choppy. Still, there are bigger worries including a failed attempt at poignancy, which sees interaction between characters feels contrived – a result of an unnecessary and unsuccessful tug at audience heart strings.

Perhaps Fraser’s largest shortcoming here is in the exposition. In the play’s tiny space, character histories are dripped out slowly. That is until about the three quarter mark, where a game of ‘Truth’ is used as a transparent vehicle for foisting chunks of exposition onto the audience in one very big, very bitter pill. It feels so unnatural that Fraser would have been better served cut the scene.

Still, it’s not all bad news. Clever lighting and brilliant sound make the production feel bigger than the theatre it plays in. It’s pleasing to see that Jeremy Silver’s sound design makes no concessions and blasts claps of thunder and whistling winds at the audience at high volumes making the Old Fitzroy at times appear to be itself battling the elements on some ragged outcrop.

Ultimately Rock ,Paper, Scissors is very easy viewing and still enjoyable despite it’s faults. It proves once again that strength of acting creates real audience connection, a connection that allows you to believe in a lives of characters from worlds so far removed from our own- and that is something that never wears thin in the theatre.

You will love it if: you can overlook the often drab script and focus on the strong acting.

You will hate it if: blackouts used as scene buffers irritates you.

Rock, Paper, Scissors is an Tamarama Rock Surfers production at The Old Fitzroy Theatre Woolloomooloo (129 Dowling Stree, Woolloomooloo) untill the 22nd August.

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