Forever in Your Debt

Nick Walker
Foursight Theatre and Talking Birds
Jacksons Lane
(2010)

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Long Tall Sally is the tallest building in town and she's about to be pulled down. She has a macabre reputation for being a favourite spot for jumpers but Vera MacKintyre (Sarah Thom), her devoted cleaner, loves her anyway. And as its suicidal visitors teeter on the edge of destruction Vera rushes up the stairs to save them.

With the consequences of debt snapping at their heals, four destitute characters enter Vera's life, and as she persuades them all down from the jaw dropping view, she also persuades them to join her band, 'The Rooftop Roulettes'. After all, 'a song is as good as a scream', she reasons. Thus the show revolves around intricate harmonies and disturbing music, as each of the talented players picks up their many instruments (including saxophone, guitar, violin, mandolin, clarinet and keyboard, amongst others) to break into their song of deficit.

As the play begins at the end and flashes back to how Vera met these struggling musicians, we meet a miserable mother Geraldine (Jill Dowse) who watched her business in the 'tat' trade disintegrate, and fakes her own death in order for the family to be supported by her life insurance money instead.

Then there's Pippa, played by Graeme Rose, a father (formerly Philip) who bought a boat and watched it sink in the sea and the amount of rum he drank. Apparently, 'according to a legal loophole', a sex change allows him to escape his financial difficulties and escape to a life of new found womanhood.

Rita (Emilia Brodie), a daughter, caught by online gambling owes her life to the local debt collector and becomes his lackey carrying out bailiff duties and setting her vicious dog on her own sister.

And finally there's Harriet (Allie Croker), the youngest of four who scrabbles for lost pennies on the street to melt down and sell on, all to rebuild the face she lost when a pit bull was set on her.

Yes, you guessed it, four of a kind makes a family on the brink of suicide reunited on the rooftops.

Foursight Theatre tells this story surreally on a suburb set designed by Janet Vaughan. The black raked box opens to four different coloured windows which alternately becomes the side of the looming building and the angled edge of the top of the building from which the jumpers threaten to pitch themselves.

As the story unravels so does the set and the cleverly pieced together box is pulled apart alternately being used as a sea-bound boat, a cowboy buckaroo, a keyboard stand and more. Over all this ranges the bright light of the follow spot, which becomes a helicopter's spot light shining on the 'suicidal-ists', calling for them not to jump. Whilst this is an innovative use of lighting, it is unfortunately an effect that, with a screaming siren, is used too many times, and becomes jarring rather than provocative.

And that is the case with much of the show as a whole. Whilst each performer is superb, gifted both musically and theatrically, somehow the sum of its parts doesn't add up to more than a piece which sends you out unmoved. Stylising the individual stories distances you from the human element, making the characters closer to comicbook representations than real people suffering the awful consequences of drowning in debt. The music and singing are both impressive and complex but the almost discordant tones become eventually repetitive. Ultimately what is needed to contrast this dark look at the edge of life, is some suitably slick, cutting black humour carrying the bleak realities into relief. Unfortunately this is what the show lacks, and in the end, it's all in the writing. Sadly, for all the play's separate pieces of well crafted artistry, it's not a show I can recommend.

Reviewer: Sacha Voit