There is one main reason why I am apprehensive about writing something about Sport for Jove’s new show ‘Ear to the Edge of Time’. It is that I am a man, and much of this show deals with the victimhood experienced by women in science, particularly astrophysics. Therefore I write on this issue from an outsider’s perspective, one that cannot (and does not attempt to) understand the complex process of internalisation that women undergo in many aspects of their lives as a result of the nature of some men. Weary of the notions of toxic masculinity and mansplaining, unlike for what I’ve seen before I felt a strong need to assert my position before I get into this review. I welcome the opinions of any woman or non-male figure that are different to mine – the show is just as much for them as it is for me.
With that being said, I believe the show works. 85 percent of the time.
10 percent of those issues come not from Alana Valentine’s script or Nadia Tass’ direction, but the performance of it by some of the cast. I’m certain the script will pick up even more acclaim than what it has already accumulated, having won the International STAGE Award for the best play about science or technology, and I am more than happy to add to that – it is a tight piece of work that turns its scientific foundation of radio astronomy (which isn’t rocket science, but something more complex) into an accessible concept for a non-STEM educated audience (or in my specific case, an audience member not even finished with formal education yet). Its emphasis on duologues, occasionally interrupted by moments of mesmerising performance poetry (reminiscent of what was done in their earlier production of Moby Dick), keeps the plot progressing at an engaging pace. I was, however, finding myself craving for an interval at times – the play deals with so much, (usually) so adequately, and so quickly that it feels longer than it’s letting on. I also would’ve liked an interval from Tim Walter’s overly dramatic performance as Daniel Singer, the scruffy truth-bending poet assigned to take the research done at the play’s observatory setting and give it literary justice. There was this unusual lack of realism to his delivery which fit his recital of the aforementioned performance poetry but felt out of place elsewhere.
Luckily, much of this is avoided by the rest of the cast. Belinda Giblin as the cheated (but nonetheless successful) female scientist Geraldine Kell-Cantrell is a joy to watch in her role, creating great chemistry with every cast member as she weaves a subtle web of influence over everything. Gabrielle Scawthorn as Martina Addeley, the fiery-haired but also cheated PhD student (side note: when you pick up a program with her face on it, fold it vertically in half immediately for a whole new person) can be a bit split-personality at some times but ultimately gives a performance that connects strongly with the audience. It would be unfair, however, to not give top credit to the immensely watchable Christopher Stollery. Primarily taking on the character of Steven Sarvas, observatory director and hijacker of Adderley’s miraculous discovery (but also an unnamed Uber driver and book launch organiser), he manages to deliver the most nuanced and entertaining performance. Bar some very minor physicality issues early on in the play, it is incredibly satisfying to watch him steal scenes. Too bad his slightly thicker-haired doppelganger is having a bit more trouble stealing the Prime Ministership over in Canberra.
Now to the remaining 5 percent that doesn’t work. Unlike previous Jove shows, there are far less props or set pieces. In fact, there are only two memorable set pieces from designer Shaun Gurton – a glass panel on wheels, which isn’t around for very long, and (what I think is) half a satellite dish centrestage left, taking up a considerable amount of one’s view of the stage. On its semicircular frame it hosts various images – staircases, planets, and fields, among other things. Even though it stays for the entire performance, there was never a discernible reason for it to be there in the first place. References to what it projects are limited. Its actual inclusion in any action even more restricted. It is very ‘Old man yells at cloud’-esque I recognise, but I can’t see its use. It was just unnecessary.
In any case, even as a man, even as a non-STEM person, and even as an individual who is ambivalent about performance poetry, there is much to praise in ‘Ear to the Edge of Time’. Do yourself a favour – come for the show, stay for Kell-Cantrell’s, Scawthorn’s, and (most notably) Stollery’s performances, and keep your eyes off that nasty half-satellite dish.