Griffin Theatre Company's artistic director, Lee Lewis, helms this drama about brotherhood, memory and loss
Be careful what you wish for. If Phillip Kavanagh’s play was the sci-fi film it might easily be, this could be the poster tagline, the neat summary of the tension at the heart of this drama that starts when two brothers revisit a formative incident from their shared past.
The play opens with brothers Peter (Anthony Gooley) and John (Alfie Gledhill), catching up with each other. Peter has just vouched for John’s character in a court appearance, but it’s clear the two haven’t been in touch for a while. John is a recent divorcee with anger issues, who now gives talks to school students about his connection with God – using a puppet – after some failed business ideas. Peter, the older brother, is about to get married, and clearly feels responsible, or guilty, when it comes to John.
The following scene, between John and his therapist, takes us a bit closer to the source of the tension – leading us to to the incident, in John’s childhood, in which his older brother Michael died. When they probe the memory, it appears that Peter’s account of the incident doesn’t tally with John’s recollection.
At this point in the play, you’re expecting perhaps a revelation about Peter’s character, a fight between the brothers; a family drama about loss, regret and regeneration… Instead, the play takes an unexpected sci-fi turn, with the rest of the action playing out in a universe where time travel is possible, through acts of ‘re-remembering’.
As blindsiding as this genre shift feels for the uninitiated, once you settle in for Replay’s ride, it’s quite enjoyable. Like any story dealing in time travel, there’s exploration of how key incidents have big ripple effects in a character’s personality and development. But there is also considerable humour, and Kavanagh has fun subverting our expectations of character. Not to mention, there’s the pleasure of seeing the three actors switch between different versions of their characters, and later in the play taking on new characters altogether.
But it’s hard to invest in characters when we’re given so little time with them. At 80 minutes, Replay is a tight drama and sharp genre exercise that doesn't quite deliver its emotional payload.
In the program notes for this play, both Kavanagh and director Lee Lewis propose Replay as a work about collective remembering and forgetting and the national identity. And while the plot mechanics do turn on shared remembering (John and Peter, for example, have to agree to the same version of events in order to change the past), it seems unlikely that the broader historical parallel with Australia’s Indigenous history would resonate for an audience unless they were pointed at it.