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Image Credit: The Comedians

A Circle of Buzzards

Review by Vivienne Glance

An interesting take on the drive for power and money, but like the birds of its title, this play lacks the sharp talons to rip into the heart of the story.

Gerry (Austin Castiglione) sits at a bar table nursing a bottle of beer. The bar seems unfamiliar with an ornate wooden bar, and a worn, exotic rug on the floor. The Man (Jeremy Mitchell) comes into the bar, and talks at Gerry rather than to him. They discover they are both Aussies abroad, but the relationship is strained. Gerry wants to be alone. The Man, whose name we never learn, says he is waiting for his Wife (Ella Hetherington) to come and join him. Apparently she is fussy over the clothes she wears, and puts on layers of make-up – all of which take her a very long time. Despite the lack of engagement from Gerry, the Man persists, with conversations ranging over many seemingly disconnected subjects. After a time, the Man’s wife joins them and the story becomes more engaging. The Man then reveals he knows Gerry’s name, and that much of what he has previously told him has been a lie. When Gerry is forced to admit he stole $900,000 from a mining company in Western Australia, the crux of the story becomes clear. The Man and his Wife have been paid by the mining company to take their revenge on Gerry.

A Circle of Buzzards is a beautifully looking production given the constraints of the fast Fringe turn-a-rounds between shows. The simple set suggests much more than the individual components, and atmospheric lighting subtly changes to reflect mood and action. The production is directed by Joe Lui, but with no programme available, the lighting designer is unknown. On the whole, the actors put in good performances, but at times the script is overly verbose and dragged down by exposition. There are too few clues to their character leaving them with little to work with. Gerry is the most fleshed-out character, revealing feelings of being exploited and helpless. At one point he looks out the window at a castle in the distance and admits it makes him dream of being a king, of having power. However, the Man and Wife are less complex as people, revealing only a single purpose in life, and in the play.

The first twenty minutes of the play meander conversationally without much dramatic action between the two men. Mitchell tries hard to bring light and shade to the Man, causing him at times, to over state emotionally. But even this did not stop a few heads in the audience from nodding onto chests, perhaps also due to the 9.30pm start time. When Hetherington enters, the play takes off. This is as much to do with the writing pushing forward the narrative as her performance. She understates the emotion and draws us into the cruelty of her words. In particular, the Wife’s final speech is very chilling. Castiglione also uses an understated, almost filmic, performance style but does allow his character full throttle towards the denouement of the play.

Unfortunately, the writing is the weakest part of the whole production. Moncrieff has the talent to tell a story and is not afraid to explore the darker side of humanity. However, the first thirty minutes of A Circle of Buzzards feels just like that – watching a circle of birds flying in the sky. Perhaps that was the intended performative metaphor he was experimenting with, but it risks failing to capture the imagination and emotion of the audience. Sustaining curiosity around an image for this long is very difficult and Moncrieff does not quite achieve this lofty aim. Once the final outcome is revealed, the play ends, as it should, but I was left feeling detached from the characters. The moral ambiguity the play was striving for was only partially teased out. Ultimately, having characters only doing something for the money is not enough to make this play the epic it hopes to be.

A Circle of Buzzards is playing at PICA as part of their Summer Nights program for FRINGEWORLD 2015 from
16- 21 Feb 9.30pm