Keep by Francesca Pazniokas

Naomi- Jess Yates

Kara- Christina Walls

Jane- Angie Glavas

Margo- Ruby Duncan

Director- Khisraw Jones-Shukoor

Stage Manager- Alicia Wilson

 Christina Walls, Jess Yates and Angie Glavas in Keep (supplied by the production)

Christina Walls, Jess Yates and Angie Glavas in Keep (supplied by the production)

Owl and Cat Theatre in Richmond/Cremorne displays so much potential to be a game-changing venue for independent artists in Melbourne, that it's such a shame when they just miss the mark. Pazniokas' script for Keep feels strong and wonderful and the ideas explored are contemporary and interesting, but slavish devotion to literalism holds the play back from reaching its full potential.

Part of the mission articulated by Owl and Cat has been to create thought-provoking, confrontational and challenging works, and they have established a decent track record of achieving this aim. But there has to come a time when we ask more from theatre than simply challenging themes. Where Keep stumbles is in the literal interpretation of the text - about a woman haunted by her past, hoarding everything that connects her to reality while her sister try to help her clean up - cramming Owl and Cat's tiny theatre space with junk. 

With almost no room to move, the actors seem self-conscious on stage, checking their surroundings, before falling for instance, which only interrupts the flow. The play is set in America and the incomplete dialect work is distracting, and frustrating because of how unnecessary it is. Locating the play in America adds nothing, and a location change would have smoothed many of the bumps along the way.

The performers are committed and mostly strong, Angie Glavas - as (oldest?) sister Jane - carving a striking presence throughout the play. The text feels excellent, and it's only by degrees that the production misses. A little too much on stage (where nothing might have inspired a more thought-provoking reaction from the audience), a dialect that is a little too distracting (where an Australian voice might have brought the message home), and a performance that was bound up by both prevent what could have been an incredibly compelling play to hit the heights it ought to.

The play is still worth seeing, still worth supporting. There is clearly a thoughtfulness behind the decision making (especially in the casting, the sisters appear uncannily alike) and there is good and hard work behind this production, but for me it (only just) misses.

Owl and Cat wants to make controversial work, but until they start to experiment with form, style, and stretch themselves beyond themes that challenge, they cannot becoming the truly groundbreaking place I believe they can be.