The Basement, as part of STAMP at THE EDGE™
June 15-20 | Reviewed by Renee Liang

OFFERING a fresh if slightly macabre take on the Great Kiwi Road Trip, Carol & Nev is a 60 minute ride through both public and private landscapes. Nev is a disillusioned office worker who is driving down country to his daughter Sam’s wedding. Everything is going to schedule until… his wife Carol, who died 25 years ago, pops up in the passenger seat.

Ormsby, who wrote the script and also takes the role of Nev, happily resists the temptation to exploit any of the tired old kiwi iconography. There are no jandals, long place names or sheep jokes in this play. Nor are there glorious sunsets or trips to the roadside dunny. Instead, the journey turns out to be a gritty, at times unsettling trip through Nev’s private landscape.

The sparse set (designed by Kasia Pol and lighted by Nik Janiurek) is used imaginatively; lighting projections (by Greg Wood) are manipulated to become theatrical metaphors. A chair becomes a carseat, a sheet of blank paper a screen. Like their previous two shows, Flaxworks have designed their set to be portable, and on the whole the simplicity works well. At times the wide but narrow stage seems too big for two actors to fill on their own, despite their energy. I wondered whether projections and sound could have been used more to fill, or alternatively the stage area shrunk to become even more intimate. In any case I’m sure this variable will change according to venue while on tour.

Director Anna Marbrook has taken risks with the staging, but on the whole it pays off. The play moves from moments of surreal reflection to comedy bordering on slapstick. The transitions are sometimes jerky, but we are never allowed to settle in one spot for long.

There are moments of real delight. Ormsby and Ellis are expressive actors; they are particularly good at capturing the raw tenderness of a couple rediscovering their love. Ormsby shows his vulnerability both as writer and actor, and it’s hard not to admire his bravery. Ellis is convincing as the passionate Carol who still believes that the world is a place where we should be standing up and speaking out. For me, the human story at the heart of this play is the real hook.

The socio-political background – the Springbok tour and its aftermath, trade union deals, protests against apartheid – is one which anchors this play and makes it a “Kiwi” play rather than one which could have been set anywhere. Here, Ormsby’s writing is finely pared and subtle. His focus is on personal reflection rather than political statement. Carol & Nev is not a loud comedy; it is a reflective, warm piece which should find a loyal audience.