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January 10, 2010 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Mo + Jess Kill Susie


Mo + Jess Kill Susie’s concept is hardly an original one. There is such a wealth of work written in this mode of the locked door, the gun and the person tied to a chair that it should almost be a genre of its own. The pressure cooker atmosphere endemic in this form is wonderful short cut for an author. It allows them to address wider issues in a much more direct and overt way than many other forms with less risk of falling into the often preachy mires of, say, epic theatre. Raised stakes and Susiefraught tensions allow them to easily put their characters and their beliefs through the ringer. Gary Henderson who wrote Mo + Jess (way back in 1996, and it is worth pointing out that nothing in the text has really changed barring the dates) knows this. He knows it very well.

Henderson has crafted an extremely taut thriller. Mo (Cian Elyse White) and Jess (Juanita Hepi) protesting an unspecified sale of Maori land have kidnapped police officer Susie (Antonia Bale). From the title you can kinda guess what their plan is. A protest is going on down at the water front and get to watch them as they wait for a phone call with instructions as to when they, y’know, kill Susie. The characters have much to talk about and we learn more than we should about all three of them.

Somewhat surprisingly, especially when you’re discussing a playwright as endemically political as Gary Henderson, the characters get a lot more analysis that the politics of the situation. As interesting and well constructed as the three of them are, the script develops an annoying habit of dropping hints towards the characters background and motivation and making the audience work towards understanding them and then simply having them state it openly. At times, it just feels like this script doesn’t trust itself to be subtle.

All three performances are very good. Each building emotional arcs nicely over the course of the work. This is notable simply for averting the obvious ease within the play to hit one high emotional note and stay there. Antonia Bale’s performance of Susie deserves a special mention, for being performed through a blindfold. That her performance still connects to this reviewer without the use of her eyes is quite the achievement.

Murray Lynch’s direction is dynamic and full of flair, squeezing every operable ounce of tension onto the stage. Thomas Press’ lights and sound are ridiculously wonderful. Like ridiculously. A haze filling the stage forces us to focus on the fine details on the performances as the ever present sound-scape shifts and accents all the action.

There is something decidedly cinematic about this production of Mo + Jess Kill Susie. Something wonderfully tense and thrilling. It may not be some big leap forward or some massive masterwork. But it is good and solid. Great way to start the theatrical year.

Mo + Jess Kill Susie
With Cian Elyse White, Juanita Hepi and Antonia Bale
Written by Gary Henderson
Directed by Murray Lynch

At BATS theatre
7 – 23 Jan 2010, 8.30pm

Booking details here.

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About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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