By Michael Wood
Earlier this month the METIOR team had the privilege of attending a preview performance of Nicholas Tan’s upcoming Fringe Festival show Five, Six here at Murdoch’s own Studio 411. Adapted from an award winning ten-minute piece, which Tan wrote but did not direct, the feature-length incarnation of the story marks Tan’s directorial debut.
Five, Six presents an intimate and immersive portrait of the lives of Andy and Joel, small-town brothers battling to maintain a sense of normalcy in the absence of their oft-travelling parents. Life for the brothers is made all the more difficult by the younger Joel’s seemingly undiagnosed OCD and the elder Andy’s struggle with his own sexuality—a struggle which drives the play’s action. Both Andy and Joel find counsel in Andy’s best friend, Max. In contrast to Andy, Max is openly gay and often finds himself as the mediator in Andy and Joel’s relationship. Helping each to grasp the other’s emotional complexities and better navigate life as a unit, even when Andy’s actions would leave Max entirely justified in leaving, Max’s compassion, guidance and love for the brothers often becomes the moral compass of their lives.
The construction of the narrative must be applauded. The events of Five, Six are not inherently driven by action, but rather by the emotional arc Andy embarks on throughout the story. At first glance the story is one of rejection by society, in which the brothers try and fail to assimilate into their surroundings. In reality it is a story of hope, and of finding goodness in those around you even when traditional sources of guidance are unwilling or unable to help.
Each of the three protagonists has a distinct emotional imprint which informs Tan’s decisions as a writer. Boiled down to its bare bones it is essentially a series of conversations, and yet the drama is gripping. For a narrative which covers such a wide range of issues, from mental illness to sexuality to familial discord, Five, Six is shockingly lean. Tan clearly understands his characters very deeply and the precision with which he selects which moments from their lives the audience shall be privy to demonstrates just how strong a writer he is. The elegance of the script was reflected in the performance’s blocking. The stage was occupied only by the actors and a handful of props which were rarely on stage at the same time. This felt entirely appropriate for a play about absence, isolation, and the question we so often ask ourselves: what is missing?
Each of the four actors delivered strong performances. Given the youth of the cast (all but one are under the age of twenty-one) their ability to connect with the audience was impressive. As Andy, Noah Way’s performance was an achievement. Way managed to create layers which left the viewer acutely aware of what was bubbling beneath the surface. Calum Costello displayed a level of commitment to Joel’s obsessive tics that elevated the piece to greater heights, while Josh McGee’s soft and stoic portrayal of Max felt natural and sympathetic.
While not perfect (because what is?), it was clearly a love for the craft which made Five, Six work so well. As debuts go Tan can certainly be proud of what he has achieved with this production. We thoroughly recommend Five, Six and expect to see some truly great work from Tan, and all involved, in the future.
Five, Six is showing at Studio 411, Murdoch University South Street Campus from the 21st to the 23rd of February. Tickets can be purchased from https://fringeworld.com.au/whats_on/five-six-fw2018