Actor Sam O’Sullivan has been a fixture of Sydney stages for a while (next up he appears in Ensemble Theatre’s production of A History of Falling Things), but until now his writing talents have remained relatively under the radar. That’s about to change, I suspect. The Block Universe (or so it goes) is his first full-length play and it’s an impressive debut.
For those not up on the latest developments in space-time theories (which is to say, almost everyone), the Block Universe theory posits that every moment exists simultaneously. Past and future is an illusion, as is the experience of time – a system of understanding developed by a brain not able to comprehend the enormity of the universe, nor deal with more than one moment at once.
In lesser hands, that might translate as some trite little piece of fluff about the importance of living in the moment. But the beauty of O’Sullivan’s play is the way it balances light and heavy; it’s effortlessly charming on the surface while giving space for more substantial ideas to bubble underneath.
Much of this charm is due to the performances of the two leads and their effervescent chemistry. Andrew (Jacob Warner) is a philosophy student whose academic struggle with the junction between philosophy and science has resulted in a gap year that is three years long and counting. To make ends meet, he works in the university library, which is where he meets Kristiina (Briallen Clarke), an Estonian who followed her boyfriend to Australia – only to find herself alone and pregnant.
He is dreamy and naïve, she is pragmatic and unsentimental, but their mutual feelings of alienation and desire to connect are more powerful than personality differences – at least at the beginning.
Told through fragments of their relationship – past, present and future all mixed in together – it’s a meatier and more thought-provoking experience than it might be if told in a linear fashion.
Both Clarke and Warner put in nuanced performances, and Clarke in particular is irresistible as the no-nonsense Kristiina. They’re supported by an accomplished creative team, including lighting by Alex Berlage, sound by Alistair Wallace and set designer Isabel Hudson, responsible for the IKEA-inspired set. Crammed with the detritus of work and life, it serves as library, supermarket and cramped apartment and works brilliantly in the rough-and-ready space of the Old 505 Theatre.
The Block Universe (or so it goes) is charming, perplexing and heart-warming all at once and O’Sullivan is one to watch. Get in now to say ‘I told you so’ when he becomes a big deal later. Or subscribe to the Block Universe theory, in which he was brilliant all along. Whatever. Just see it before it closes.