Absorbingly entertaining “The Trembling Giant” is inventive science fiction rooted in thrilling psychological drama
I can count the number of plays I’ve seen on one hand.
Being an unabashed consumer of on-screen formats of visual storytelling (both film and television), theatre has always been a blindspot of mine. Ask me about theatre and I’ll talk about Roman Polanski’s version of Carnage and Macbeth or Baz Luhrmann’s modern take on Romeo and Juliet. Wasn’t Anne Hathaway so great in the only adaptation of Les Miserable I’ve seen performed?
But when it comes to actually seeing a play at the local theatre, there was always just a tiny seed of doubt holding me back, like the feeling you get when you have to sit down to watch a David Attenborough doco or a silent film – you know that there’s a good chance that you will enjoy watching them, but there’s just that mental mountain you have to climb over to actually press “play”. My particular mountain for theatre could be the verisimilitude of watching a story unfold on “stage”. The screen-dependent nature of TV and film provides an appropriate amount of distance that allows for the suspension of disbelief to be easily conjured – but will I believe or get engrossed in what’s happening in a play, where indications of it being a “performance” are much more obvious, much more at the forefront of my mind? This question was completely dissolved as soon as The Trembling Giant began.
From emerging Perth theatre company Those Who Love You, The Trembling Giant follows the story of two people, Margot and Flint, and their struggle to keep one of the last remaining trees on earth alive inside a bunker in a post-apocalyptic world.
With an ecologically centric premise like that, it would be very easy for the play to veer into “propaganda storytelling” territory, but writer-director Monty Sallur cleverly avoids this with a nuanced script and committed cast. Anchored by powerful performances from local talents Zoe Street and Peter Townsend as Margot and Flint respectively, The Trembling Giant leverages its inventive science fiction ideas as backdrop for a riveting, character-driven psychological thriller. Sallur, with the help of Street and Townsend, manages to populate the play with idiosyncratic characters that don’t ask audiences to like them, but are captivating enough for us to hang on every word of the crackling dialogue they speak.
From its very first scene, The Trembling Giant is able to fully immerse audiences into its intricately constructed universe. This is in part a credit to the expertly imaginative use of set design, lighting, and soundscapes, all working harmoniously together to take full advantage of the “chamber piece” premise. The perfect marriage of playful lighting and effectively eerie sound design by local musicians Alex and Yell injects a fittingly claustrophobic atmosphere that keeps audiences engrossed in the narrative of the play, often feeling like we are in the bunker with the characters ourselves.
The Trembling Giant is very ambitious in its attempt to weave so many elements together: the character drama; the sci-fi world building; the psychological thriller. Sallur manages this juggling act for the most part, but the play is not without its shortcomings. Although it is essentially a two-hander, it seems that the script is more interested in Street’s Margot as its main protagonist, which results in Flint coming across as relatively underdeveloped as a character. His motivations – while can be implied from Townsend’s subtle performance – is much less clear to the audience.
Perhaps it is due to this discrepancy that, on par with many high-concept sci-fi narratives, the seams of The Trembling Giant start to show as it reaches its explosive climax. While the conclusion of the play is definitely a thrilling one, there’s a sense of “just go with it” vibe to the ending that makes it stop short of being emotionally gratifying. However, much like the best of science fiction, the greatest thing about The Trembling Giant is not its destination, but how it gets there instead. And how it gets there is a fun, captivating path worth taking.