On the surface, the play is about the blood, sweat, and tears of a toxic relationship. A closer look reveals differing internal motivations creating conflict that gives rise to debate on themes of sex, gender roles, abuse, and love. Set the two characters in a city where living options are cramped and costly and the title of the play becomes apparent. Cameron, unknowingly motivated by a Madonna-Whore complex, can’t understand why his actions belie his words. And Alice, sexual from a young age and deathly afraid of being alone, can’t escape the relationship. Perhaps more tragically, she is self-aware. The scenes are stacked at different points in their relationship to expose the hopes, deceits, and jealousies that only love can invoke. Both the subject matter and the dialogue are highly contemporary.
Production History - Jan 16- Jan 30, 2016 @ The Owl and Cat Theatre, Melbourne AU
JANUARY 28, 2016 -
Tinderbox is an outstanding play, let me get that out of the way. Still, after little more than an hour duration, the audience met the closing scene with scattered applause. I can explain – I was too stunned to react, and my plus one was in tears. No doubt the rest of us at The Owl and Cat theatrehad similar reactions – it took as a good while to process it all. I would watch it again eagerly, a second viewing would allow me to brace better for the shock while appreciating the subtler aspects of this very finely written and acted piece. The story is a roller-coaster telling of brief relationship between two 20-something year olds, Alice and Cameron. The scenes, set in his dingy apartment, jump from its peaks and troughs, present to past and back. It opens with one of the many low points – he seemly breaks her wrist in an argument, and she threatens to call the police and an ambulance. Before we can be quick to judge, the story takes us to earlier encounters, and reveals more of Alice and Cameron – tenderness and complicity, with them confiding and revealing fears and insecurities. And to later only use these very vulnerabilities to wound each other with pointed spite and anger.
The writing and the acting are fabulous, the intimate setting and incredibly clever set-design completely immersive. At one moment, the arguing couple, burst out the door, literally, into Swan Street, shouting abuse at each other, with us (and Richmond passersby) uncomfortably waiting for it to subside. At that time, I felt more like an intruder witnessing a couple’s intimacy, than an audience in a work of fiction. The play packs in a lot of that might cause discomfort – simulated sex, infidelity, nudity, mental health, domestic abuse, possessiveness, impotence – it is as effective and engaging as it is because it doesn’t hold back. Be warned, but don’t hesitate to catch this world premiere by the American playwright Allan Hayhurst.
JANUARY 20th 2016
What I love about Owl & Cat Theatre productions is their audacity to present works that confront the complexities of human interaction and go deeper. Their latest play, Tinderbox, explores the intricacies of two people embroiled in a situation that, up close, can be difficult to decipher when flailing around in the midst of it. Tinderbox is a new play by American playwright Allan Hayhurst and has been skillfully directed by Thomas Ian Doyle, who also did lighting, sound, and set design to great effect.Tinderbox contains elements you rarely see in a theatre production: violence, nudity, sex scenes, and coarse language—just the ingredients for an authentic look at how real life can play out in a confusing game of blame, jealousy, delusion, and control. Alice (Fiona Scarlett) and Cameron (Khisraw Jones-Shukoor) convincingly embody a couple who battle with their personal issues in love within their self-created arena of "Us against the world." The 'honeymoon phase' involving cute flirtation, giggles, fun, lust, and great moments in bed, fizzles out against a backdrop of insecurity and fear. Within their love bubble, they end up battling one another in a desperate attempt to feel validation for their worthiness of love. But is it love? All couples fight, but where is the line when violence features in a relationship and at what point do things turn toxic and evolve into a pattern that eventually becomes normal? Is violence ever ok? The play cleverly ties events from the past into the story via a projected video montage on the wall, which reveals the chequered life of Alice, who has also been diagnosed with a mental condition. She determines her abusive past and subsequent condition to be the cause of her problems, but this also allows her to avoid taking responsibility for her present behaviour, thereby perpetuating a victim mentality. Cameron, less experienced in hardship, abuse, and love, finds her experiences a cause for resentment and jealousy, leading him to blame Alice for her situation and turn against her when they engage in fighting. Alice certainly plays her part in the violence, often pushing too far, but Cameron's physical power ultimately dominates. After one bout, Cameron claims that her injured wrist is "Just a deep bruise." Alice, pausing to call the cops, states "You're the man. They always blame the man."Manipulation and fear run rampant through this couple's affair as they both wrangle for what they want: simply to love and be loved. With violence against women becoming a larger part of our social discourse, this issue is an appropriate one to address. It is dealt with Tinderbox does an excellent job of exploring the theme of violence and love, nuanced brilliantly with the difficult and confusing reality of blame and insecurity that often riddles relationships that are not based on mutual trust. Go and see this riveting exposé on violence and love, and support independent theatre.
JANUARY 23rd, 2016
Provocative. Intense. Disturbing. In Tinderbox you are up close and personal, witnessing the highs and lows (especially the latter) of a nine-month relationship between a pair of 20-somethings that unravels before your very eyes. Violence and mental torment, jealousy and hatred are the stock in trade. There is also tenderness and intimacy, flirtation and ecstasy, unfortunately all too short lived. The Owl and Cat Theatre is staging the world premiere of this new work from American playwright Allan Hayhurst. Direction is from Thomas Ian Doyle, who is also responsible for lighting, sound and set design, which he really nails. The opening is particularly confronting and sets the scene for the subsequent toing and froing from present day to episodes in this couple’s past. In other words, the storyline isn’t linear, rather a jigsaw puzzle that allows us – the audience – to assemble details of just what has gone down. The narrative trawls through how Alice (Fiona Scarlett) and Cameron (Khisraw Jones-Shukoor) got together and what drove them apart. They work in the same business, at different outlets of a chain of juice bars – he an aspiring actor and she keen on preaching the benefits of healthy lifestyle choices. Both are prone to fits of pique and violent outbursts, but he is clearly far more physically powerful than she. The intensity of the action is such that you dare not look away for even a second.
One of the cleverest scenes involves a simple prop, namely a pillow that appears at an appropriate juncture from above the stage. It is a reflection of far happier times, when Cameron and Alice were lusting for one another. But this is far from the only time the staging impresses. As Alice reveals her back story (and she has certainly had a colourful past), it is dealt with in a matter of moments with a prerecorded video montage that appears on the back wall of the theatre. I thought it a marvelous visual cue. And then there is a time when the duo literally takes its verbal jousting out of the theatre and onto the street immediately outside. A touch of brilliance there. The performances are hard to forget, especially that of the leading lady. My only slight criticism of Tinderbox concerns the fact that physical manifestations of mental illness, while verbalised, were hardly seen (save for a scene very late in the piece). The show includes violent interactions, nudity and two simulated sex scenes. Not for the feint-hearted, this is raw, primal and engaging theatre with a critically important theme at a time when violence against women is squarely in the public spotlight … just as it should be.Tinderbox is playing at The Owl and Cat Theatre (Swan St, Richmond, Melbourne) until 30th January.
Filmed in 2015/2016
Released on YouTube 2016/2017
Fired on the first day of summer, a withdrawn 20 something forgoes finding a new job and instead collects unemployment benefits so he can spend his days and nights attempting to break out of his shell one summer.
2017 Semi-Finalist for Best Web Series - Los Angeles CineFest