The West

Where There's Smoke
Four stars
The Blue Room Theatre

Where there is smoke, there is fire. And certainly there's plenty of fire in Where There's Smoke.

99seats Theatre, hailing from rural New South Wales, brings to the stage the tale of Oliver (Thom Jordan) and Elsie (Erin Taylor), waiting for a bus in the middle of nowhere amidst an oppressive heatwave and the threat of looming bushfires so they can return to home to see their parents for the first time in 10 years.

But like Godot, the bus never arrives. As the heat beats on, it drives them mad. Tempers flare and they spill secrets that challenges what they believe of their past.

The narrative is smart, precise and organised. Like a ticking time bomb, tension is built up gradually; starting with Elsie applying her nail polish, and then Oliver rattling the bus shed aggressively, the two playing truth or dare, culminating in screaming matches. Then the family secrets get spilled. Then comes the ominous bushfire.

Through their fiery exchanges, the audience are invited into their world. We are challenged to piece together their fragmented recounting of their past, and we get to truly know the characters and their deepest fears.

The set design and the props play just as big a role. The red lighting highlights the increasingly violent atmosphere; the character's physical baggage alludes to the emotional baggage each is carrying around them, hobbling them down wherever they may be. And a single bus shed as a centrepiece anchors the entire ensemble, and amplifies the underscoring tensions which drive the narrative.

Jordan's performance as Oliver is a tour-de-force of barely contained anger that is intimidating and held me to the edge of my seat, and it gets even more gripping as he breaks down.

It is a tale about how the intricate myths we tell ourselves to make ourselves and make sense of our existence can fall like a pack of cards. From the macho posturing of Oliver to the haughty indifference of Elsie, these psyches and beliefs they have built for their entire lives come undone through events beyond their control.

A story that is extremely loud and incredibly close, Where There's Smoke is quality Australiana.

Where There's Smoke runs until February 1.

The West Australian

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