The Underground Ark | Artsound review

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Peter Holland & Martina Donkers

Bruce Hoogendoorn, whose new play, ‘The Underground Ark’, I saw on opening night last Thursday is a Canberra playwright who has already written several successful plays.  You’ll remember seasons here in Canberra of ‘The Clever Country’ in 2010, ‘Simon Says’ in 2009 and ‘The Role Model’ in 2008  His plays have gone on to have a life beyond Canberra with productions by interstate companies, even winning a workshop for one of them with Edward Albee of ‘Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?’ fame.  I’m not surprised at this because he does all the right things to get his plays out there.

 In his website, he says, (quote) “The plays have been through the usual hoops all playwrights have to jump through these days: dramaturges, staged readings and audience feedback.  Fortunately, the plays have survived these (in fact, thrived on them), with feedback leading to only mild anger and violence on my part.” (unquote)  Luckily, he won’t have to beat me up because I liked his new play, ‘The Underground Ark’, very much.

In this play, the earth’s surface has become uninhabitable to the point that living underground is the only option.  With obviously limited resources, choices have had to be made about who is chosen to live down there.  The play intelligently explores what happens when human nature is thrown into the mix.  Bit by bit we are drawn into the characters’ lives – their good and bad character traits and the idealistic and selfish decisions they make, leading to a chilling and disturbing ending.

Fiona Fox, the director, has done a good job with the pace of the play and the depth of the acting.  The simple but effective set, the work of Daniel McCusker and George Rose, provides the right acting space and atmosphere for this drama.  Sound and lighting by Michael Foley is very effective and costumes by Miriam Miley-Read have been chosen very well to suit the theme and the action.

The cast are uniformly excellent.  Peter Holland as Ben engages our sympathy early in the play as he struggles to survive mentally in this environment.  We follow his journey through the play with great interest and ultimately mounting concern.  David Villanti as the threatening but ever-smiling, Stan, is very effective in a balanced performance of a role where you could easily go over the top.  Ethan Gibson as the young, idealistic but dangerously self-centred student gives a strong, heart-felt performance.  Martina Donkers and Hannah Wood play two very different women with great depth in their characterisations.

I was half-expecting to see a play that preached to me about climate control.  I was very pleased to find instead an absorbing human drama with the important issues as background to the story.  The play is well written with good characterisations and the story moves along at the right pace to keep us interested and involved right up to a satisfying, if worrying, ending.

If you haven’t seen one of Bruce Hoogendorn’s plays before, you won’t be sorry you saw this one!

© Len Power

Broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 17 June 2012

Posted on June 18th 2012 in Reviews

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