REVIEW: The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek (La Boite Theatre Company & Playlab)

Where? La Boite Theatre, Kelvin Grove
When? Feb 10 – Mar 3
Existentialism meets environmentalism in La Boite’s powerful new mainstage production, and it is excellent. The debut season of Kathryn Marquet’s The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek, directed by Ian Lawson, examines human nature and the sanctity of life and death. It is, quite literally, a bloody good time.
Hot-headed, passionate zoologist George (Emily Weir) is saving the world, one Tasmanian Devil at a time. Her roommate at the ranger station – pot-headed, easygoing Harris (Julian Curtis) – maintains the population of feral animals in the National Park where they live and work.
Their co-existence in a remote location is interrupted one evening when Harris returns to find an unconscious stranger in their bathroom. The play begins as a murder mystery but quickly becomes a hostage situation when the stranger, Irishman Mickey O’Toole, unexpectedly awakens. Things spiral downhill from there as the scientists try to find a solution, and Mickey (skilfully portrayed by John Batchelor) becomes increasingly unhappy with the situation.

High-achieving Girl Scout Destinee, played in a purposefully exaggerated way by Kimie Tsukakoshi, joins the fray and brings a different perspective about the end of the world. Her self-assured, indignant ignorance contrasts with the logical worldview of the other three characters, and her ethics against those of Mickey O’Toole. Destinee seems particularly out of place when everything that surrounds her is so visceral and real.
Perhaps the most fascinating and engaging aspect of this play is the way the audience’s perception of the characters and their roles changes as new information is revealed. Expertly written and perfectly cast, the sitcom-style set of the one act play shows an excellent use of space, and the way that the characters still keep secrets from each other in the confines of the ranger station.
Costumes and sets designed by Vilma Mattila brought the remote location to life in conjunction with lighting design by Christine Felmingham and composition and sound design by Wil Hughes.
A few loose ends are not entirely tied up by the end of the play. A deeper relationship between the two scientists is commented on but not explored, and a few other questions are left unanswered. Harris is portrayed as a New Zealander but this is never mentioned and does not contribute to the plot, and his Kiwi accent is a bit on the inconsistent side… Also, Harris’ regular reference to George as “Aspy” – someone who has, or may have, Asperger’s Syndrome – is brushed over and does not serve a purpose other than to prolong the idea that anyone not socially adept has a developmental disorder. Destinee’s character does call him out, but her own ethical credibility has been well and truly undermined by that point in the work. Her constant (mis)use of the term “bae” also felt a little forced – her character says enough without actively making fun of youth slang, which has always changed and been regarded as ridiculous by preceding generations.
Emily Weir was exceptional, delivering many impassioned monologues with only one minor slip. The character of George represents a deep-seated anger, confusion, and sense of helplessness that I have witnessed in many of my peers in recent years. Her pessimism about the human race, her self-righteous fury, and the sense of desperation to do something before it is too late resonates deeply with the current state of the world.
La Boite bills this work as a comedy and I laughed, certainly, but the overarching themes and story were not comedic or light-hearted. Nonetheless, I would absolutely recommend this play. Be warned, though, it is for mature audiences (15+). See Dead Devils, but leave the kids at home.
Buy tickets here.

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