Before We Turn to Dust
James Hartley's This Modern Coil
Sydney Fringe Festival | Sydney
directed by James Hartley
Two soldiers are trapped on a minefield, forced to confront death and each other’s beliefs about death. Intelligent, humorous and charming, James Hartley’s This Modern Coil explores our relationship with mortality, through a process that is inevitably philosophical, for an existentialist work that is simultaneously universal and challenging.
The writing operates at several levels of intellect, with some moments proving to be more accessible than others. Still, even at its most demanding, performers Atlas Adams and Tom Green are able to provide a sense of authenticity that keeps us engaged in their cerebral drama. Both men are gregarious and charismatic, effortlessly funny in a show that is almost always entertaining. Their impressive chemistry secures not only our attention but also our empathy. They are very likeable characters that never fail to let us see ourselves reflected in all their anxieties and fantasies.
Hartley’s own direction of the work is accomplished, with effective manufacturing of tension through much of the piece, although the show is quite clearly more gripping in its first half. Set and costume design by Ara Steel is creatively and proficiently rendered. Regrettably the dim lighting does take away from some of the actors’ more subtle efforts.
There is a depth to This Modern Coil that is very admirably courageous and balanced with a confident sense of comedy and storytelling. We are lured into a meaningful exchange about the biggest and hardest questions of life, only without the usual feelings of intimidation and alienation. No two people are the same yet it is the certainty of death that reveals our individual, fervent pursuits of disparity to be futile. We may wish to be special, but at the humble juncture before turning to dust, there is no denying the simple essence of humanity that binds us all.