Out of Bounds
Written and directed by Jonathan Solomon
6 to 10 September 2016
PACT Centre for Emerging Artists
Amy Field- School Secretary
Chrissie Antoniadis- School Principal
Daniel Asher Smith-Teacher
Jade Alex- Beautician
Morgane Stroobant-Pushy Parent
Nicholas Carter- Photographer/ Real Estate Agent
Reviewed by Nathan Lentern
Enter the world of an exclusive private school principal who is barely holding it all together. Overworked and underloved, butted and buffeted by pushy parents and rival principals, she’s come to rely heavily on the sage counsel of her pampering hairdresser. Things reach breaking point however when a poison pen scandal sees parents threatening to end her career. With the aid of her downtrodden school secretary, a hunky geography teacher and the wily beautician; our embattled hero must pull out all the stops to head off catastrophe.
Out of Bounds is a quaint concept for a play. While some of The Sydney Fringe’s offerings are overly ambitious in their attempts to unpick the mysteries of life, love and the universe and serve up a convoluted mess in the process, this play is simple, clever, funny and well made. And having nailed these fundamentals it is then able to slip in a few incisive social commentaries along the way.
The plot is ultimately a cute old fashioned cosy school whodunit, which when supported by likeable and interesting characters like this makes for a truly delightful production. The story moves along quickly and clearly, anticipation is built skilfully before reaching an enthralling crescendo and when the cast takes a bow I am amazed that a full hour has passed.
Chrissie Antoniadis as the school principal was spookily believable. All frazzled and wired, she oozed young, overwhelmed professional. She was in many ways a perfect lead; realistic and relatable enough to drawn us in to her universe and empathise with her plights but saddled with a good dosage of neurosis to lend her a comic edge.
Jade Alex as the hair dresser was brilliant with her catlike combinations of affection, manipulation and feigned vulnerability. There was something deliciously conniving about the way she used her salon as a sort of panopticon tower of gossip, subtly wielding enormous influence over her gullible clientele all the while maintaining a humble altruism. Her eventual role as a hero of sorts after earlier being written off as a benign friend serves as one of the nice little social messages tucked away neatly within the folds of the briskly moving plot. The imperious, wealthy and influential professionals are all ultimately outmanoeuvred by an unassuming beautician with a strong moral compass and a healthy amount of common sense.
If there is a chink in the armour it is Morgane Stroobant as the socialite and pushy mother. It’s not that she’s a weak character, she’s just not right for this play. She’s cartoonish and hyperbolic in a subtle and nuanced universe. It’s difficult to take her seriously when she is so hammy and our heroes are so dignified. Consequently, her attempts to inspire anxiety in our principal don’t really resonate. The idea that such a formidable professional could be so easily bullied by this oaf lacks credulity. And her flaws which are intended for comic affect are over the top and lose their potency as a source of humour. It’s a shame because in spite of these weaknesses, plenty of green shoots still pushed through. If only they had dialled her down a little she could have been fascinating rival for our principal.
Two men play small but significant roles. Asher Smith is a hunky teacher who has been cuckolded by his high flying banker girlfriend. Though he has some romantic chemistry with the principal he serves mainly as a sounding board for the more eccentric characters to talk through their issues. He’s there mostly to make nervous and quizzical faces at the audience as women become hysterical before him though he shows a few kooks of his own, notably his vanity over how he appears in tight fitting clothing.
Nicholas Carter is a chill photographer who comes in to do the official school portraits. He adds little to the show, just a bit of zen counsel intermingled with predictable metaphors about photography.
The stand out was Amy Jayne Field, so mouse like and self-doubting. Terrified of her boss and intimidated by her, she lurches from disaster to disaster in tragically hilarious fashion that just makes her instantly loveable.
The show has a running purple theme, all the characters have shades of purple as their names: Violet, Indigo, Lavender, Magenta and all wear at least one, often more, purple articles of clothing. There might be some links to be drawn between the vane and kingly colour and the pomp and ceremony of the exclusive private school but if so it is a tenuous link. On the whole the purple motif makes the simple set a little more grabbing aesthetically – which is a perfectly legitimate reason to do it – but adds little else.
Out of Bounds is a joyful and heart-warming tale about standing up for yourself and accepting that you can’t please all people at all times. It is a treat to watch.