Review from the Archives: The Feather in the Web

If The Feather in the Web is one thing – it’s audacious.

Like his protagonist, a woman who does whatever she wants and is afraid of nothing, Nick Coyle’s bold new play has a fearlessness that is perfect for the Griffin Theatre Company stage.

Kimberley, played by Claire Lovering, is a like a bowling ball, speeding along, bashing over all obstacles in her path with a thrilling ease. She is provocative, and she is daring. And then she falls in love. Miles (Gareth Davies), works in brand development, is unkind, a bit boring, and decidedly engaged. But that doesn’t faze Kimberley who falls at his feet, eager to do anything to win his love.

Hilarity ensues as Miles makes Kimberley jump through hoops for a chance at his affection. On Miles’ instructions, Kimberley befriends his fiancé Lily (Michelle Lim Davidson), a kind but dumb character who lacks Kimberley’s bowling-ball confidence. Witnessing the pair’s bourgeoning friendship as Kimberley’s fearlessness rubs off on Lily is one of the joys of this story. At Kimberley’s encouragement, we see a stuttering, crowd-shy Lily master an improv class, gain a job promotion, and belt out office karaoke to Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman”. Although the premise of the play is about Kimberley’s desperate attempts to seduce Miles, The Feather in the Web, is at its best when Coyle shifts his focus from romance to sisterhood, and the developing friendship between Kimberley and Lily.

A karaoke bar and improv class are just two of the many unlikely scenarios that Kimberley finds herself in. In fact, an improv class is a very apt reference point for this affectionately haphazard narrative. Many scenes felt as if Coyle picked a setting and threw Kimberley into it, and that director Ben Winspear gave his very funny actors free rein to make it up as they go. The play pinballs through these often-hilarious tableaus as Kimberley hitchhikes, flirts, waitresses and terrorises her way through whatever life throws at her.

These short scenes are presented through Sophie Fletcher’s innovative set design, and Trent Suidgeest creative use of projections and lucid lighting transitions. A series of replaceable curtains represent a large variety of locales which are torn away after each scene as the action movies to somewhere new.

In her role as Kimberley, Lovering throws herself into every scene without falter, and the audience loves her for it. As Lily, Lim Davidson delivers a character with much more depth than initial appearances suggest. These two women, who grow and transform in unexpected ways, are assisted by the fantastic comic talents of Gareth Davies and Tina Bursill, each embody a host of supporting characters. Davies is a transformative wonder, playing six different characters and bringing a distinct humour and quirkiness to each of them. Bursill is a stage dominating presence, whether as Miles’ foul mouthed drunken mother, the inept and dopey improv teacher, or as the transcendent representation of the ‘aura’ of Kimberley’s migraine.

While Coyle makes some interesting points about the way we change ourselves to impress others, this play largely exists in a realm of comic unbelievability, that makes it hard to take seriously. Much of the comedy comes from the notion that Kimberley is larger than life, too bold and brash and shocking to really exist. Watching Kimberley bumble through a series of ridiculous situations, in pursuit of a man she fell in love with on sight, is funny to us because it’s too outlandish to ever be true.

However, three-quarters of the way through, Coyle brings the farce to a shuddering halt. The play takes an unexpectedly dark turn into suicidal territory as we see the devastating impact as Kimberley discovers that she’s a “feather” trapped in a “web” of infatuation that she can’t escape. This rapid change is tonally abrupt and narratively jarring. The characters’ comedic and larger-than-life nature up until this point severs emotional investment, making this plot turn problematic.

At the heart of this play is a very funny, slightly absurd story about a fearless girl willing to do anything for love. While Coyle’s attempt to verge into serious drama fails to hit the mark, the cast are just funny enough, and the set-up just absurd enough, that we can forgive it. In a professional theatre landscape that is often too focussed on the classics, this off-beat and endearing comedy is very much worth your time.

Come for the laughs, stay for the cast (and tolerate the ending). The Feather in the Web guarantees a very funny night out.

Jo Bradley

The Feather in the Web, Griffin Theatre, 5 October-17 November, 2018.

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