Printable CopyLIMIT
The State Theatre Company of South Australia
Bakehouse Theatre
Until 09 Nov 2019

Review by John Wells

The most over-used word in reality tv must be “journey”. Whether it’s the tawdry tedium of “Married At First Sight” or “The Bachelor” or “My Kitchen Rules”, every fame-seeking contestant is always on a journey. But imagine a reality tv show that dispensed with the perma-tans, bad, over-puffed lips and desperate lunging for Insta fame, and sent the players on a real journey. What would you do if you could leave everything behind and abandon life as we know it for something new, something unknown and something life-changing?

As Sophia Simmons’ new play “Limit” begins, two strangers, Sarah and Marc, are thrown together on a ground-breaking reality tv show which takes them away from Earth to a new life on Mars. Who cares about plating up, rose ceremonies or bathroom reveals when you’re on a spaceship hurtling towards the red planet?

This is an intriguing and absorbing set-up. How will these two carefully-selected and psychologically-screened individuals fare in a new world? How will this neo-Adam and Eve cope, knowing they will never return? What pressures do they feel, being completely alone and yet being watched constantly by a television audience? Will they establish a new outpost of humanity, bringing only our best qualities, or will the millennia of human failings haunt them?

Rachel Burke (Sarah) and James Smith (Marc) are wonderfully cast. Their skilled portrayals are instantly believable and have a beautifully fresh immediacy. They move from excited strangers, to polite curiosity, to a closer bond as their rocket propels them through space. Burke brings a charming openness to Sarah, and Smith is a picture of genial ordinariness. They both reveal hidden complexities as the play progresses.

The script opens with confidence but is ultimately uneven. The first half of the play benefits from tight writing and excellent structure: the ticking calendar counting the days and minutes in space gives momentum, the flash-backs showing Sarah and Marc’s video auditions add depth to their characters, and their interactions are involving, tense and engaging. The action is layered with audio interviews with Carl, the billionaire behind this reality tv project. Carl (brilliantly voiced by Terence Crawford), an oily, meretricious blend of Richard Branson and Elon Musk, is a disturbing and disconcerting presence. The narrative becomes repetitive and the play’s momentum slows disappointingly in the second half. The text does not always articulate the interesting ideas the story creates. Later, a significant and unexpected event brings the threads together and the play finishes strongly and intelligently.

Kathryn Sproul’s set is wonderful: a blonde-wood capsule that looks like a chi-chi design team has made over a little corner of the Enterprise. It is both comforting and claustrophobic, and is lit with sensitivity by Mark Oakley. The lighting design perfectly complements Sproul’s set and serves the play perfectly. James Oborn’s sound design gives a humming, buzzing industrial atmosphere, adding to the sense of fearful anticipation.

This State Theatre Company Umbrella production is an excellent initiative, assisting in bringing new work by local artists to South Australian stages. This should be applauded. In its most successful moments, “Limit” is a subtle exploration of power, the disposable nature of fame, the fear of our future, and the dangers that hide in all humans. Are we destined to repeat the terrible, hurtful errors of our race even when we escape this burning planet?