Alex Kharnam

AlexAudience member Alex Kharnam saw opening night of Guardian Angel. He gave some wonderful critical feedback, both positive and negative, which was considered and knowledgable. I asked him if he would pen his thoughts as a critical review as our reviewer was a no show, and I am grateful he obliged. His review is honest, constructive and insightful, and I am very grateful to him.

This is what he wrote …

Melbourne Fringe has always seemed like a showcase of small, often one or two-handed plays that are still, to all practical purposes, very much “in development”. It is a mixed blessing for audiences, but when you find the true gems; you tell everyone who will listen for a week.
This year, though, there is a move towards larger ensemble peices with much more “developed” productions.
One of the finest examples, alongside Proper Villain’s version of Julius Ceasar, is Guardian Angel. Written and directed by long-time actor Gavin Williams for Steam Productions. Guardian Angel is being staged at Broken Mirrors, A rather nice, new-to-me venue to the north of the CBD.

Guardian Angel is first and foremost a Well Written show. It has character progression wired into its bones and a story that lets the audience explore reasonably complex ethical and cultural issues without simply slapping them in the face with the author’s conclusion. It is a play that will leave you thoughtful, though few examples can be provided without spoiling the plot. It introduces two reasonably self obsessed, 20-something, shallow people and the only-slightly-more tolerable best friend that is caught between them during their breakup. This opening scene was the closest I came to dismissing the characters as two dimensional tools of a mature male author trying to voice young women, incidentally… But I am glad I stayed with it, because that one scene is a shorthand-sketch of their lives to that point, of people who had never yet had to find their true depths. The pressure to do so happens in very short order…. And the changes to the characters, how they evolve and respond is the story, more than any of the still-satisfying narrative plot twists.

Samantha, played by Constance Washington, is kidnapped, suddenly and randomly from a late night Melbourne street. Her oh-so-recent ex, Rohan (Brook Sykes) is left squarely in the spotlight as a suspect. Police and Media then swirl like a cyclone through the lives of those trying to make sense of the shocking disappearance.
The story unfolds on several levels, the least satisfying being a series of large-screen TV’s broadcasting a very-Current Affairs style tabloid show. The host, Bryce Padovan, playing one of his two roles, is every bit as TV sleazy (all in the name of being “hard hitting” of course) as his real-life sources. It is the least satisfying and least compelling aspect of the production. Not just for the disconnection you feel by watching a TV as opposed to live theater, but for the fact that some of the segments drag too long. The set within the TV studio also represents the worst mistakes in set design that this show commits. But these being the plays worst aspects, what is left is still an amazingly enjoyable, well rounded and engaging experience. Having been to close to 20 shows in Fringe so far, this is one of very few that is both entirely satisfying as a story and also able to have you still consider aspects brought up by it, several days after.
As with the aforementioned Caesar, this play becomes driven and personal through the more minor roles, In particular Kelley Kerr Young, as best friend to both Rohan and Samantha, and Lesley Coleman’s Detective Mason both go the extra mile in characterising and truly “filling” parts that could otherwise be just plot advancement notes. The entire cast is ably directed and talented, but these two stand out for me.
Set and lighting is competent and well laid out, if entirely static and perhaps more a TV set then a stage one. Direction, as mentioned, is outstanding, and the entire show has a very well rounded and completed feel to it. This is the work of several years, and the resultant quality and depth shows clearly.
I have evaded going into the story and the ethical points it so ably brings up for good reason. I would have audiences approach it as I did; I suspect many would come away with different questions they found relevant. Just know that the writing does not underestimate the audience, or jump to the instant resolution at every turn, and that is very appealing indeed. Guardian Angel is easily one of my three favourite shows from Fringe so far, and one that I rather hope to get back to see for a second time before its run ends on October 6.

- Alex Kharnam

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