Ensemble Theatre, January 18
Playwright Tracey Trinder died while Killing Katie – her first play – was in development. She knew the production was happening and had met the cast, but missed the joy this world premiere would surely have afforded.
While her first play, it was far from her first script: she was a professional TV writer and editor, as the refined craft of her story-telling, characterisation and dialogue attest. Dramatic irony drips from the walls and almost forms pools at the actors’ feet, so tin-eared are Trinder’s marvellous characters to their foibles.
Apparently someone said, “Either she goes or I go,” to Trinder after a book club meeting, just as Robyn (Kate Raison) says of Katie (Chantelle Jamieson) in the play. Robyn, a wannabe novelist, has ensured her monthly book club strictly adheres to her decrees, and she places considerable store in her own opinion.
In classic tradition, the tight little circle of four (completed by Bron Lim as Linda, Valerie Bader as Robyn’s dry-witted mother, Angela, and Georgina Symes as the frenetic Sam) is invaded by an outsider when, without consultation, Sam invites Katie along.
Katie is everything Robyn is not: fearless, gregarious, sexually at ease, and with no filter between brain and mouth. Her arrival instantly undermines Robyn’s authority – a novelty that Linda, the most demure, initially rather enjoys. All but Robyn are puffed up by Katie’s praise, only to be swiftly deflated by her jarring home truths.
Trinder effortlessly delineates her five characters without resort to type, and director Francesca Savige has beautifully balanced the casting and maximised Trinder’s considerable wit. She’s shrewdly made a fairly sedentary play three-dimensional, aided by Tobhiyah Stone Feller’s imaginative design, which is always in perfect harmony with Savige’s light touch.
Given the title, it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal there’s a death scene – one that would be easily realised in Trinder’s usual TV medium, but which creates an on-stage problem that Savige has not quite solved. The ensuing book-launch scene is also weaker than the rest of play, although saved by an exquisite coda.
The actors lovingly inhabit their characters, and deploy expert timing and interaction as the dramatic irony doubles the laughs. Yet the play is also extremely moving as it traverses friendship, social dynamics, motherhood and guilt. Equally sophisticated and entertaining, it’s highly recommended.
Until February 26.