Glass Town is an original show you’ve probably seen before. Co-written and co-directed by Georgia Kellett and Anna Secker, we are transported to a small town in south Louisiana. There’s a new kid in town, Walker (Will Toon-Lister), who quickly catches the eye of young Laudie (Molly Wake). Laudie’s mother Miss Belle (Kit Marsh) is chair of the town council and will never approve. Here in Glass Town, everyone knows everyone, secrets are fallacy and there’s a rumoured monster that haunts the streets. Younguns court one another, workers mourn the recession caused by railway closure and Big-City Business wants to buy out the town and build a big hotel. It’s the stuff of Thorton Wilder or perhaps Tenessee Williams.
Unfortunately, Glass Town does not push the form of these classics, or function as an ode to them. The story is largely a clichéd genre-piece that lacks both the humming tension and intrigue of the small-town thriller and the pervasively numb reflection of Our Town. It leaves me asking, why? Why did a company bursting at the seams with talent make this work?
And I hasten to add that this is a company with plenty of talent. Dannii Kellett’s set design is stellar! The asymmetrical street façade provides a realistic but appropriately off-kilter backdrop. The stark white colour and translucent window panels provide ample opportunity for set and lights (G. Kellett and Secker) to communicate the mood and tensions of each moment. Use of silhouette through the windows is particularly effective in illustrating the town’s ‘monster’. G. Kellett and Secker serve as writers, directors, choreographers, producers, and lighting and sound designers on this show. An immense effort, and their sound design should be particularly commended. Use of a variety of strings score the production with melodies that conjure old-school detective stories and crime-thrillers. The tracks play throughout most of the show and give the sense that something is coming even when the story itself does not command our expectations. This team has serious design chops, and it all works harmoniously in Glass Town.
Something that sets Knot Theatre apart is their hallmark use of physical theatre. This aspect of Glass Town is hit and miss for me. The sections that see a chorus (Thomas Laybourn, Maea Shepherd, Duncan Macintyre and Mia Kale Alfonzo-Red) flood the stage with silhouette, movement and dynamic action as ‘the town monster’ are effective in their abstract specificity. Some of the general ‘townsfolk going about their day’ routines get a bit same-same, but on the whole this element adds another layer to keep the audience engaged.
All actors perform their parts with energy and skill, and Toon-Lister and Wake’s chemistry is believable enough to carry the play’s central relationship. It is unfortunate that the Louisiana setting results in some patchy accent work that promptly snaps me out of the world each time a vowel is clipped in that oh-so-Kiwi way. This wouldn’t bother so much if the setting was absolutely essential to the piece, and the actors were giving it a good go (they were!), but Glass Town is a fictional small town with small-town politics. It could really have been anywhere. The Southern flavour was a creative choice that didn’t add to the narrative but asked the audience to suspend disbelief one step further. I wonder if a New Zealand town setting would have brought some local relevance to the tale, or if a mix of accents among characters would have created a more liminal setting as foundation. These both seem better options than what comes out as poorly executed realism.
Ultimately though, the fault of Glass Town is in its narrative. It lacks intrigue, tension, and characters worth caring about. The final scene attempts to reconcile the micro-plotlines to a satisfying conclusion but instead ham-fistedly shoves all the most interesting bits into the last five minutes. For all the talent on show, an undercooked script lets the rest down and leaves me underwhelmed. I hope that Knot Theatre will be more reflexive in choosing the stories they tell next. They tell them well, and that’s enough for me to take a punt on the third album.
Glass Town is on at 6:30pm until Saturday, 26 February at Te Auaha’s Tapere Nui. Tickets available on the Fringe website.