Review: Blue To The Horizon

Bluestone Arts Space, Footscray
18 to 22 July

By Lucas Ioppolo

In a week of continued firsts on my review journey, I attended my first production for Sevenfold Theatre Company Inc on Wednesday night to review an original musical for the first time, a show called Blue To The Horizon. Premiere productions almost always have a lot riding on it as it’s often uncertain who their main audience will be and what said audience will think of it critically and commercially until opening night and sometimes later. The amateur theatre circuit is no exception as most productions we see are adaptations of plays and musicals we have grown to love over the years but when it comes to a brand new production that no one has seen before, it may be harder to find a wider audience outside of friends, family and the company regulars. For an original show to get a following from its respective audience, it must find a way to reel you in and grab your attention within the first ten to fifteen minutes but Blue To The Horizon seemed to do that almost instantaneously with its hard-hitting drama, intense subject matter and performance range. 

Blue To The Horizon followed six Australian strangers trapped in a dystopian, apocalyptic world who escape into the ocean by boat in search of an unaffected land but face challenges that threaten to turn them against each other via desperate measures out on the open water, far from civilisation. The overall premise was something that had never really been done before in musical theatre and it was all the brain child of one Sarah Wynen, who’s writing of the book and score was nothing short of revolutionary and reminiscent of works from literary giants like Arthur Miller and George Orwell, through analogical storytelling that got the audience thinking long after the final line with its overall message. Tasked with directing the unique production were Daniel Kim and Tess Walsh, who also stood up to the plate as musical director and choreographer respectively and it soon became clear that Wynen made the right choice with trusting her story to the two inspired creatives and assistant director/choreographer Courtney Holt. 

Behind the baton, Kim and his small but trusted band kept the complex score minimalistic instrumentation wise but this method really added to the isolated setting and elevated the stakes placed upon each character higher and higher as their days at sea continued to rage on, evidently influencing the cast’s spectacular vocal performances in the process. Walsh’s choreography was devoid of the energetic Broadway style routines that wow the crowd but each small dance display was strongly structured all throughout, featuring multiple physical storytelling elements infused with almost completely synchronised steps that ruled the room with an iron fist like a drill seargent preparing soldiers for battle. As for Kim and Walsh sharing the director’s chair between one another, they and the rest of the creative team worked tirelessly to capture Wynen’s creative vision and bring it to life on the stage in the way she intended. They awakened the inner dark side of each performer to present the best of their acting abilities to the audience as they sat on the edge of their seats wondering what would happen next with no predictability in sight; and they utilised the production and technical design to set up the mood of each scene in order to let the performers pour out all of their emotion and range into their characters in every single one of their scenarios. Kim and Walsh tackled their positions seriously during the entire rehearsal period, resulting in original and orderly production team turns that successfully conveyed the premise’s metaphor for the ongoing refugee crisis through a format that blended cinematic stylings of historical award winning documentaries and survival epics like The Perfect Storm. 

With the subject matter of Blue To The Horizon being as grave as it was, Sevenfold needed a resilient and uber talented cast to portray the human element for each character in the midst of their own personal hell and the company found it with players that could garner award recognition for their efforts. For their portrayal of a married queer couple who lost their daughter in an accident many years before who struggle not to lose themselves on the open sea while trying to keep control of their situation and protect the youngest people on board, Stephanie Beza and Zoë Harlen formed a strong bond that struck a chord with their audience as Rae and Anne with chemistry that could move mountains to boot. Originally written as a heterosexual couple, I believe that the story benefited more from this rewrite, as the show’s parental figures left more of an imprint on Melbourne’s amateur theatre circuit on a relatability note for the better in the midst of our representation renaissance. Beza’s characterisation of Rae was firm, forceful and formidable especially in her more confronting scenes while Harlen’s tenacious, tender-hearted and triumphant characterisation kept Rae grounded in a good way as they balanced each other out and originated two strong characters that could garner reputations for being the ultimate feminist heroes. 

For their performamces as a sister and brother who find themselves orphaned in the apocalypse, struggling to keep each other afloat in what could be the darkest period of their life while trying not to leave each other behind on their quest for a safe haven, Nicole Rammesh and Jackson Cross captured the hearts of everyone watching their story unfold as Sophie and Bronson respectively. Her character may not have been captaining the boat or had the faintest idea of what to do when it came to being a guardian, still Rammesh embodied courageous and caring qualities that made her a leader in her own right even when Sophie let her guard down during her romance with the captain and she made it clear that Sophie was doing the best she could with her brother all the while waiting for their lives outside of turmoil to begin. Cross, meanwhile, gave an innocent yet intuitive and integral portrayal that highlighted the impact devastating events have on the younger generation and it had the potential to open up discussion between adults and youth of change and challenges one faces in a cruel universe, especially when finding yourself having to choose where your loyalties lie and who’s hands you place your trust in like Bronson does in the spectacle. 

These powerful pairs were true standouts throughout the night but I think the king and queen of Blue To The Horizon were the lone wolves on board the boat, who had no one else in the world but the company of their shipmates and they were Mat Dwyer in the role of Beau and Lucy May Knight in the role of Chris. For his portrayal of a sea captain who takes it upon himself to save five lives and when their future is uncertain, puts himself in grave danger of to keep hope alive for his passengers and his new found love despite a potential mutiny on the horizon, Dwyer was upstanding and unforgettable and even though he is no stranger to mentally taxing roles, Beau was able to connect with Dwyer like no other role has before. He seemed to take inspiration from his fatherhood to influence his protective bond over his on stage crew and his take was a testament to what makes him one of the finest performers currently shining in our circuit. Finally, for their portrayal of an unhinged soldier dishonourably discharged from the army who only finds peace and solace in ensuing chaos and makes it their main mission to turn the cruise into their own floating war zone, Knight was slick and sinister as they could effortlessly shift between the two sides to Chris’ personality with the drop of a hat on multiple occasions during the musical’s hour long run time. At the beginning, Knight was able to gain the audience’s trust and provoke the occasional cackle with their character’s wit and ability to look on the bright side of things and to say that they terrified us with the unmasking of their unsettling psychopathic demeanour in the latter half would be an understatement, managing to make the revelation of Chris’ manipulation all the more shocking. From their borderline comical introduction all the way up until their big infernal swan song in the production’s climax, Knight showcased a flawless method on how to play a villain of the darkest kind, which psychologists would diagnose to be a sociopath or psychopath and frighten the theatre going public for years on end. 

Blue To The Horizon may be a brand new musical that does not yet have a massive following like Broadway and West End shows do in Melbourne’s amateur theatre community; however I believe it definitely has the potential to have such a successful future if the musical is taken beyond Sevenfold in the coming years. Whether she uses the same cast, crew and production team or not, the opportunities Wynen has to expand on her magnum opus are as endless as the sea the show is set on and with thrilling masterclass performances and behind the scenes work that capture every essence of its themes and messages, I can’t wait to see what’s next for the company whether it’s original or adapted theatre. Special shoutout to Mat Dwyer and Daniel Kim for their outstanding work in making the spectacle happen on stage and off and to the rest of the cast and crew associated with Blue To The Horizon on a great start to their season. Like with any adapted production, make sure you get your tickets to see this brilliantly written original musical, support the company, support the artists, support their message and support local theatre. Congratulations Sevenfold for shining a light on the importance of original theatre with your latest production and sail on.

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About the Author

Lucas Ioppolo is a community theatre performer with a passion to bring a positive energy and encouragement to those in theatre who have gone unnoticed or underrepresented. He hopes his reviews can help bring the spotlight back to a community that has helped him throughout the years.

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