Tom's a-Cold: engrossing

Tom's A-Cold

This deceptively simple dark comedy from writer David Egan (playing now as part of the Next Stage Festival) is the kind of play that one knows is good if for no other reason than by virtue of the fact that despite its dramatic restrictions, one is just as engrossed at the end of sixty minutes as one is at the beginning.

Set in Canada's colonial days, Egan spins the story of two English sailors, Dowling (Matthew MacFadzean), a senior commander, and Holworthy (Shane Carty) his underling, both confined to a rowboat stranded in the high arctic. Tom's A-Cold reveals its truths and its characters' realities gradually; what at first appears to be a hopeful tale about two chipper Englishmen en route to salvation gradually erodes and decays - often in amusing reveals - until the narrative is as bleak and unforgiving as the landscape in which it is set.

Co-directors Daryl Cloran and Ashlie Corcoran manage to keep the proceedings and the blocking surprisingly dynamic regardless of the confined physical parameters of the script. One of the most impressive effects they manage to pull off is the very real sense of days, perhaps even weeks, passing by despite a complete absence of blackouts or breaks in the dialogue. MacFadzean and Carty also deserve credit for this illusion, both expertly whittling away at their characters' sanity in a seamless but evident descent into madness. Although both are strong performers, MacFadzean stands out for his ability to blend stiff upper lip-ness with absurdism - a talent he previously displayed in Morris Panych's 2007 wilderness survival play What Lies Before Us.

Although set and costume design often get short shrifted in festival productions, Joanna Yu impresses with her very legitimate looking row boat and authentic period garb. It's just one more detail that supports an already gripping and despondently funny examination of the limits of man's moral fortitude in the face of peril.

Tom's a-Cold is on as part of this year's Next Stage Festival. For more information go here.

By Justin Haigh