It’s not easy to make a Happy Meal toy sound so sinister, but there you go.

The Apocalypse Theatre Company’s world premiere of Permission to Spin, in association with Old Fitz stalwart Red Line Productions, packs that ever so rare combination of tones. At once breathlessly cynical and churningly dramatic, as the play’s rhythms smash up against each other it hits and ever-so often misses.

Set entirely in a talent agent’s sheen-stricken office, the most synthetic of any Red Line staging in recent memory, coke-ridden Jim (Yure Kovich) implores star client and children’s entertainer Cristobel (Anna Houston), best known as Miss Polkadot, not to throw it all away on the eve of her most celebrated plaudit. Manager Martin (Arky Michael), anticipating a win for Children’s Album of the Year, has little going for him beyond shepherding Cristobel now through over a decade of fame, having started together at a very, very different time in their lives.

Kovich is the play’s highlight; his jarring, physical presence and recreation of recreations which many would imagine routinely transpire in talent agents’ office emerging amongst else as very memorable. Houston deftly navigates the travails of her sensation who has outgrown her audience, as does Michael, here saddled with some of the play’s most confronting moments. Michael, front and centre for Permission to Spin’s most blatant and unnecessary tonal shift as he at one instance narrates straight to the audience, amid a strong cast nonetheless carries his part well.

Having weathered a now resurgent crisis before the dawn of the social media age, Permission to Spin is at its satirical best when chronicling how the troupe come to terms with the horrifically macabre set of circumstances. A marvellously shrewd idea for a play, this novel premise feeds off our familiar conceptions of the tempests that take place behind the glitz and glamour while being markedly relevant in terms of broader world affairs.

This is however but half the play, which alternately proffers a more traditional drama as the egos, personalities and sets of wills clash against each other in a forebodingly dark and increasingly discomforting manner. In this way, Permission to Spin is not unlike Red Line Productions’ earlier staging of Bull, which also figured with overtly aggressive personalities and less than mild themes of subjugation. Whereas Bull set its sights alone on this dynamic and its resultant comic undertones, Permission to Spin, in a similarly short runtime, features an almost wholly separate focus on its key cynical ploy which, like the interactions that have no doubt ensued between the group over years, could just as well have been the emphasis of the play alone.

Likewise, Permission to Spin’s comic leanings, inherent to it’s morbid premise and sidelined at a moment’s notice to address the tensions within these relationships which have here reached a fulcrum, clash strongly in tone with the more serious dramatic interactions which characterise the play’s second half. The theatrics of the trio’s later confrontations are of such a manner that they are most emphatic when underscored with the staid studiousness characteristic of sparing moments all too abruptly and frequently undercut by respites of humour and reminders of the play’s core premise.

Not unwelcome, these innovations as rendered here are of glaringly disparate resonance compared to much else that materialises, contributing to this uneven if still entirely consuming production.

Rating: 3 ½ stars

CAST: Anna Houston, Yure Covich, Arky Michael
Written by Mary Rachel Brown
Directed by Mary Rachel Brown & Dino Dimitriadis
Produced by Thomas Murphy for Apocalypse Theatre Company, in association with Red Line Productions

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