By 2b Theatre
Look at this image. Look at it. Does it make you want to rush out and buy a ticket to this show? It doesn't make me want to rush out and buy a ticket to this show. I know people don't rush out to buy tickets to shows these days but anyway. Invisible Atom is about as visually rich as this photo suggests. Which is strange, because in terms of writing, directing and performance it's bursting with ideas and imagination, all of which are astutely rendered. I don't know why the design is so drab and lifeless. It seems as if the entire production was consciously intended to prevent the possibility of a more compelling promotional image.
I know you probably didn't come here looking for Capital Ideas About Promotional Images By Someone Untrained In Marketing and Publicity and it's not like I'm some kind of Johnny Sparkles who wants every show to look like Hairspray. I've seen plenty of productions with similar designs that really hit the mark, such as Elbow Room's There, which shared more than a few common points with Invisible Atom, or last year's wonderful 5 Days in March, also in the Fairfax. But in those cases the extreme minimalism serves to focus our attention to a needlepoint. Here, it seems that design was just overlooked.
Or, rather, that this was a problem of context. I had the pervasive feeling throughout the affair that this was a superb small production in a large room. It was intimate and centripetal and wants to be shared but can't fill the Fairfax Studio, even if a fair bit of the space has been blocked off. It's not that the Arts Centre shouldn't have programmed it, since it's exactly the kind of piece that deserves to tour here, and I can't really fault the production for not reinventing itself in a way more appropriate to the theatre – I doubt the team had the resources to do a lengthy new development in Melbourne before the season. It's somewhere in the middle, perhaps.
Then again, I'm also inflating the problem quite a bit here.
Because, really, Invisible Atom has a lot to recommend it. It's smart writing, full of allusion and subtle metaphor. Anthony Black can hold the entire show on his own, and Ann-Marie Kerr's direction prevents the piece from getting too bound up in its own clever-cloggedness.
What's it about, right, right. Well, Atom is a guy who was abandoned as a child but who has built a hugely prosperous life working as a stockbroker, with a terribly expensive house and designer couches and big TV and a lovely wife and newborn boy. A series of philosophical crises see him embarking on a slightly unhinged journey to discover the truth of his parentage and his discoveries don't just result in a re-evaluation of his life but have implications that resonate across history.
There's plenty to think about, here: the work stitches together a fabulist tale out of particle physics and critiques of advanced capitalism (there's a throwaway line about an “invisible hand,” making this the only production I've ever seen that makes economic theory in-jokes). Adam Smith and Isaac Newton are the presiding authorities in Atom's life, and his struggle is really that of anyone attempting to free themselves from the yoke of those bastards.
The story is ultimately a fairly humanist one that returns to people as a way of escaping ideas; the internal correspondences are at times too twee, and the resolution lacks the ambition which has preceded it. But if it seems as if I have a whole bunch of quibbles about the show, that's all they are. Invisible Atom is about as rewarding as most of the work being produced in Melbourne today. Just a bit plain-looking.
Fairfax Studio until Saturday.