Old Fitzroy Theatre, March 10


Emily Sheehan has painted herself into a corner. She’s crafted a gothic horror film within a play within her play, and these three layers collide and generate infinity mirror effects on the nature of the act of creation – from Genesis to Frankenstein, pregnancies, acting and writing – that are variously ingenious, amusing or mildly confusing. The corner she’s painted herself into is that the play within the play, which constitutes the work’s bulk, is, admits its on-stage director, “not great”.

Megan O’Connell and Madeline Li. Photos: Phil Erbacher.

The film being shot is a loose adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The director, Margot (Jennifer Rani), has cast Anna (Megan O’Connell), to play Angelica, a onetime queen of B-grade horror movies attempting a comeback. Joining Anna is Estee (Madeline Li), Hollywood’s hot new star, playing Elsa, the nominal monster, while Hugh (Charles Upton), plays Henrick, one of Angelica’s beaux.

The initial Angelica/Elsa interaction – the latter posing as a fan-girl cub reporter interviewing her favourite fading star – is vastly entertaining. Once the action swaps to on-set rivalries and dramas, however, the pace bogs down. There’s amusement value in the pastiche of the supposedly arty, European take on the horror genre, but the interminable bickering and nastiness between Anna and Estee and between Anna and Margot could lose 20 minutes at a stroke.

Li and Charles Upton. Photos: Phil Erbacher.

The funny thing is that when we reach the finale, in which we discover the movie-making was all occurring within a play rehearsal, the Playwright (Emma Wright) argues with the Director (Upton) about this exact issue. The playwright/director interaction is penned with open-wound sensibilities, the director intent on the common arrogance of remaking the work in his own image. That’s not to say Sheehan has suffered in this way, as another of her themes is the dichotomy in the creative impulse between the diaristic and imaginative. The “monster” is now the play itself, and the issue is whether the pregnant playwright can take a knife to her own baby.

While the dramaturgy is laboured, it’s all fascinating thematically, and this New Ghosts Theatre Company production is exemplary. In fact it’s hard to imagine the play being done better than it is by director Lucy Clements and her exceptional cast. But as the Playwright says towards the end, “You can’t know whether what you’re making is good or bad until it’s out there.”

Until March 30.