Review: Dead Cat Bounce, Griffin Theatre Company

Judith Greenaway

Dead Cat Bounce, from Mary Rachel Brown, plays out a witty, comic and ultimately very moving story.
Review: Dead Cat Bounce, Griffin Theatre Company

Dead Cat Bounce. Photo by Brett Boardman.

If the dead cat of the title sounds like a thoroughly unpleasant animal, the human characters who bounce around it aren’t much better. Each with an addiction that absorbs their energy and with interactions informed by neediness, the four main characters ricochet off each other, and the walls that hold back improvement. However, in a brilliant directorial conceptualisation, the walls remember and bear witness as Dead Cat Bounce, from Mary Rachel Brown, plays out a witty, comic and ultimately very moving story of stepping through.

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Gabe is a writer, an alcoholic, and a Hemingway reader. His substantially younger girlfriend, Matilda, is aware of his failings as a writer and man but is compelled towards some weird kind of supportive rescue lifestyle.  His former publisher, former lover, Angela can’t seem to move on from the manner of his departing and her new obsession, Tony, has a fixation with the allergy inducing nameless cat that Gabe left behind.

In Mitchell Butel’s direction, the production strikes an insightful balance between the comic and the wry. Brown can cut to the heart of the themes with a claw sharp swipe but Butel astutely foregrounds the struggle in the interactions rather than relying on the wit to carry engagement. It’s very funny when he cuts it loose though.  While it is difficult to see how each of these pairs are drawn to each other, there is a considerable lack of warmth in the partnerings, the character based frustrations are expressed with a refractive self-absorption.  And Butel’s choice for the restaurant scene to be played sitting is a rare and spectacularly effective staging.

This encounter gives full rein to the outstanding performance of Lucia Mastrantone as Angela who implodes with fury and throws the hilariously cynical lines with force and accuracy.  The specific target of which is Gabe (Josh Quong Tart), consumed in a fracture of delusion and with the hazed outlook and perplexed incomprehension of the chronic alcoholic. Matilda is played with a constancy of perk and enthusiasm by Kate Cheel perhaps benefitting from more modulation away from the strident.  Johnny Nasser’s Tony is also a little one-note early on, but in his final few appearances and especially his work the final scene is empathetic and very emotionally affecting.

Dead Cat Bounce. Photo by Brett Boardman.

Butel’s strong hand is at play in those highly emotional last 15 minutes of Dead Cat Bounce.  It is here that the symbolism of the many gifts inside the text is realised and the audience is encouraged not to dwell on the impact of their past but on concern for the circumstances of the quartet’s future. 

The white set for the production is tabula rasa for these characters and the engineered snap from scene changes is meticulously clever. The elevated nature of the physical layout gives opportunities for the women to be raised above the men and the wall metaphor is marvellous. The stark white is allied with a lighting design which stays discretely in the pastel range, the use of frosted orange particularly effective. Isolations in white provide an intensity of focus on interiority and the wall and floor strips of narrow colour reflect mood within the restrained palette. Audio is equally subtle with effects such as bushscape, operated to be effectively under, and smooth jazz belying the turmoil inside and exemplifying the search for peace.

But, despite their advances, there is no such quiet available to these four individuals.  Dead Cat Bounce is a reflective recoil; a whiplash interrogation of the nurtured and sustaining addictions harboured inside an allowance to love.  


Rating: 4 stars ★★★★
Dead Cat Bounce

Director: Mitchell Butel
With Kate Cheel, Lucia Mastrantone, Johnny Nasser, Josh Quong Tart
Designer: Genevieve Blanchett
Lighting Designer:Alexander Berlage
Composer & Sound Designer:  Nate Edmondson

22 February - 6 April 2019
Griffin Theatre Company

About the author

Judith grew up as a theatre brat with parents who were jobbing actors and singers.  She has now retired from a lifetime of teaching and theatre work with companies small and large and spends evenings exploring the wealth of indie and professional theatre available in Sydney.