Periscope Productions’ “The Dice House” by Lucy O’Brien

Posted on April 13, 2013

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It feels odd beginning a review of The Dice House without in some way giving up the structure of the review to the dice. So I’ve assigned some aspects of the review to numbers of the dice, and hope that you enjoy the randomness with which they occur. And if you don’t, see the damn play and then understand where I’m coming from. The first thing I asked of the dice was whether or not I should write the review relying on the dice, to which the dice of course replied yes. Like, duh. Otherwise they’d be out of a job. Plus that made me excited because the last time I decided anything by throwing dice was probably primary school, and there would’ve been one of those cool origami things involved too. The second thing I asked was whether I should get drunk while writing this review. And whether I should tell you guys I was drunk while writing this review. I’ll get back to you on that one . . .

Periscope Productions' "The Dice House".

Periscope Productions’ “The Dice House”.

The Dice House, by Paul Lucas, was originally produced by the Birmingham Theatre Company, and was inspired by Luke Rinehart’s book, The Dice Man. Where The Dice Man concerns itself, very seriously, with the story of a psychiatrist who decides the actions of his life with the casting of dice, The Dice House adds farce on top of this premise, poking wonderful fun at what was originally a very subversive piece of writing. The piece relies on strong comedic acting, energy and pace; and Periscope’s production, directed by Benjamin Sheen and Katharine Gentry, is anchored by these things. Sheen’s set design also added a beautiful slickness of design extending to action. The opening sequence pays tribute to this—it’s absolutely hilarious, unexpected, charming and effective. Seriously, well done pulling this off, both technically and visionarily (that’s not a word).

I would like to commend Gentry and Sheen on a beautifully cohesive piece—the combination of directorial and set design roles Sheen played was displayed brilliantly on stage, with bright white flats that swooped on and off stage in order to carry away characters or cleverly reveal them. It suited the style of the show and, in fact, may have encompassed the essence of the show—funny, clever and very effective. I’d like to commend those playing the “roles” of moving these flats – Alia Tun-Ismail, Cassandra Prigg, Catriona Dunham and Megan Redmond. I was very glad to see that they were revealed at the end of the show for bows. I was generally impressed by how smoothly everything operated for an opening night.

Nobody in the program is credited with the show’s opening projections but there was some lovely video work, projected across the aforementioned flats, featuring Brittany Lewis. Make-up and design shone during this; it was super cool. In fact, I liked it so much, I wondered where these projections were later in the show, I was really hoping they’d make a return.

Leech King’s sound design was accomplished. She showed her superior knowledge of the pacing of the piece; it’s clear she knew when to make the sound a joke on its own, or have it assist a bigger gag. Very funny. Unfortunately, the sound levels were sometimes too loud, combined with some cue timing issues, so actors were trying to yell their lines over the sound effect. This was vexing, so hopefully this issue resolves itself as the run continues.

I took great issue with the lighting design. There were a couple of fairly crucial scenes which occurred in lighting black spots. Not sure if this was a directing, acting, or lighting plot problem, but it was a shame to watch whole scenes without adequate lighting surrounding the action. Seeing just how much light there was in the foreground of the stage actually added to my frustration, because practically all action in the back occurred in shadow.

L-R: Simmons, Coates, Vickers-Willis and King.

L-R:  Joe Simmons, Andrew Coates, Charlie Vickers-Willis and Leech King.

I commend all the actors on how hilarious this show was. Matthew, played by Joe Simmons, was absolutely gorgeous to watch—sympathetic and meek, with impeccable comic timing. I cannot stress enough how good his feel for comedy is; he puts every joke exactly where it needs to be. His lines are somewhat repetitive, but where many actors might find themselves in a routine of saying the same line the same way, his repeated lines just became funnier and funnier. Andrew Coates as Dr. Drabble was great opposite Simmons. Where Simmons’ character was malleable and trustworthy, Coates played the “villain” brilliantly, using his patient to his own devices. I loved watching as Coates became increasingly sadistic; witnessing his character “think on his feet”, reacting to the increasing fucked-up-ness of the situation was joyous. And watching assured yet totally ridiculous Charlie Vickers-Willis (as Dr. Ratner) push him there was equally joyous. Vickers-Willis delivered a measured performance. He managed his time onstage well; any more and his character would’ve become grating, any less and we may not have understood or sympathised with him at all. His increasingly ridiculous costumes are very fun, though I felt that as the play progressed (I won’t give anything away) his outfits became a little less committed and a little more haphazard—less subversive and surprising, and more like a night at the Peel. I’ve probably said too much there…

Leech King as Polly, Dr. Drabble’s semi-estranged wife living in the Dice House with Dr Ratner, was a pleasure to watch—in many ways. Her work was wonderful; well-timed with spontaneity informing her character in much the same way that Simmons approached Matthew. Her accent was totally charming, and her costume was hilarious and exquisite—not many people could pull off a white corset/stay-ups/garter ensemble under the bright lights of the stage, but she did so with little self-awareness. Jennifer van Veldhuisen (Victoire) and Brittany Lewis (The Knight of Grudge) were amusing cameos, both playing the surprise and tension of their characters to much effect. Van Veldhuisen was perhaps a little raw, and I wanted to see her be slightly more confident in her own ability. Similarly, I wanted to see more conviction from the spurned Lisa (Morgan Thomas). While the actors around her played at a ten for laughs, she floundered a little—lost in what to do with her more earnest, grounded character. Her scenes with Matthew could have been great if played more for the melodrama.

Everyone played every single joke for what it was worth—and for the most part this meant it was truly funny, but it lacked a grounding “nugget of truth.” Act two wandered into more skit-based, less plot-driven comedy, and I think that the characters milking each scene took a little from the over-arching plot line. Ultimately, the show lacked the heart that makes comedy truly great. I’ve left Brendan McDougall until last, vaguely on purpose—let’s say the dice made me do it. If comedy is actually tragedy made light, about empathy and the ridiculous, McDougall finishes first for me. Even though, plot-wise, nothing could be further from the truth. He is the perfect foil for the main action, a hilarious side story that just gets better and better.

The Dice House was a wonderful venture into the world of the absurd and ridiculous—fast-paced and energetic, with many excellent performances. Overall, a super enjoyable evening at the theatre. Get down to it, if you can. Or, y’know, roll the dice to see whether you should cross-dress and then antagonise the neighbour’s dog instead.

Lucy O’Brien is a new theatre contributor for You’re Dripping Egg. She’s also a freelance composer and musical director. 

“The Dice House” is on at The Guild Theatre, in the University of Melbourne, from Thursday 11th – Saturday 13th April. Lucy saw the show on it’s opening night performance. 

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