Despite being handed a free beer upon entry to Fatal, a play premised on a surprise birthday party, I was not in a celebratory mood when I exited the performance. This had less to do with Albert Pretorius’s character Jason’s desperation than my own disappointment at the unoriginal material, misplaced direction and squander of Pretorius’s prodigious acting talent.
He and director Tara Notcutt are correctly associated with high quality work but I sense this play, written by Pretorius, has been rushed into production, committed too early to delivery with not enough time available for critical editing.
The forced heartiness which dissolves abruptly into short bouts of heavy-handed despair, explosions of self-directed rage and overwrought declarations of love give the plot away and strip the element of suspense needed for a script to hold our attention. It is all too apparent that Jason’s relationship is over, it’s just a question of how the ending came about and I’m not sure I was invested enough in the character to care. He’s rather a doos, a former wannabe rockstar arsehole morphed into an excruciatingly boring 30-something who has become middle-aged 15 years too early. His only redeeming feature is his over-earnest desire to please his absent girlfriend Lucy but even this desire only exists because he’s realised what he’s lost. His earnestness is also tedious. Are 30-somethings really agonising over love like this? Is that all there is left for them?
None of these factors need be a problem. Plays are filled with unlikable characters delving into singular emotions, but the context here is that the performer is Albert Pretorius and the director is Tara Notcutt and this work is regressive, not progressive. If they had staged this play seven years ago I would have said it was good and had potential. However, given the quality of work they have produced, both in collaboration with each other and others, it’s as if they’ve taken a step back.
Pretorius is fantastic as an everyman character and was devastatingly brilliant in writer Will Eno’s Thom Pain (based on nothing) performed a few years ago. It was a festival highlight for me then and it appears he’s trying to recapture that performance in Fatal, only this time through his own script, which, if true, is an exercise in looking back rather than forward. The ‘lost love’ and ‘my life is empty and if I can’t fill it with a perfect partner only drugs and booze will do’ themes have also been repeated one too many times by Notcutt.
Additionally, what made Thom Pain work was it was stripped down to nothing but a man coming to terms with a brutally cynical world and in contrast, Fatal has too many unnecessary bobs and baubles, which only underline the over-dramatisation of the mundane.
As a fan of Pretorius’s acting and Notcutt’s direction, I rather wish I hadn’t seen Fatal, not yet anyhow.
P.S. Critter Mike Loewe loved the play. The rip-roaring praise I posted on my Facebook page was a direct quote from him after he saw the show and I mistakenly thought I was placing it on the Critter Facebook page. We’re still friends.
P.P.S The original headline was ‘Seven years too late’ but that is a bitchy throw away line they don’t deserve. (Yes, we’ve agonised over this).
— Steve Kretzmann
Programme notes for fatal here.