Written by Anjelica Murdaca, Directed by Lachlan Knight
Review by Justin Clarke
Content Warning: Discussions of suicidal ideation
Written by Anjelica Murdaca and directed by Lachlan Knight, 3:33am is a collection of times in a couple’s life, as they choose every day to love each other, despite failing to love and live for themselves.
Living in a compact, Redfern-based, studio apartment, young couple Aaron (Isaac Harley) and Bella (Anjelica Murdaca) have their relationship tested day after day in their rocky relationship. Offering small tokens of love and appreciation along the way – bubble baths, marijuana pancakes, red lingerie – their co-dependency often pushes their lives in dangerous directions.
The staging of 3:33am offers a simple and intimate setting to welcome the audience into the pair’s life. A double bed, rug and table are all we are provided with, as well as a looming, ever-changing clock that is projected above. Made to represent the passing of time and portray the moments when the couple experience the highs and lows of their relationship; it mostly seems unnecessary. Despite the final, significant moment of 3:33am, this felt like an unneeded addition to the staging.
Knight’s vision for this piece offers audiences a space to focus on the reality that faces this couple day in and day out. This in turn creates a significant opportunity for both actor/writer Murdaca and Knight to create something that is both powerful and emotional for its audiences whilst also revealing a poignant and fresh message on mental health. Sadly, it sometimes misses the mark.
It’s clear that Murdaca has thought honestly about what she wants to say about mental health in relationships, but perhaps a step back to see the show in its entirety could have helped to clear away some of the murkier moments.
It would have been quite a significant leap for Murdaca to bring Bella to life in such an emotionally heavy script from a budding playwright. Separating herself from Bella and allowing her characters to breathe could have been Murdaca and Knight’s first point of call to make when choosing to star in the production. Bravely, however, Murdaca jumps into the shoes of the character she created.
Bella, an innocent, fragile youth, seems wholly co-dependent on her partner Aaron for stability. She is introduced to us as the heart of the show, with her mental state being the first complication that’s raised in the pair’s relationship. With her ongoing actions seemingly testing the boundaries of hers and Aaron’s loyalty – slipping marijuana into pancakes on the eve of a new job, discussing the notion of transitioning to an open relationship – the character study of Bella herself could have been one to dissect under a microscope.
Halfway through, the underlying health issues of her partner Aaron take the reins of the show and steal us away from the beautiful foundations that Murdaca builds for Bella.
Isaac Harley’s Aaron is a stereotype of masculinity. Withholding his emotions, depending on marijuana for sleep and a curious infatuation with Taika Waititi are his main traits. Harley brings moments of humour in the times Aaron lets his guard down, and it is these moments of pure silliness where Harley really shines. Portraying a clear message about men’s health and depression, Murdaca has written Aaron to push her message about men needing to speak up.
The heart of this production rests on the believability of Aaron and Bella’s relationship, which was hard to see at first. The pair found their chemistry as the play progressed. More physical moments of intimacy at the start of the production would have made Bella’s distance more impactful for both Aaron and the audience. As the couple finally find their footing, the quieter moments become the more tender ones. And this is what brings the ongoing impact of the character’s mental health issues to the forefront of the show.
As with any contemporary work that presents notions of suicide and mental health issues, the dependency on the message is always needed. It’s clear that Murdaca has thought honestly about what she wants to say about mental health in relationships, but perhaps a step back to see the show in its entirety could have helped to clear away some of the murkier moments.
3:33am is a personal piece of storytelling that has a future in being restaged after further workshops. If not pursued, this would be a waste of its potential.
3:33am played at the Kings Cross Theatre from 21st-23rd February 2022. More information on KXT can be found via their website here
Director Lachlan Knight
Cast includes Isaac Harley
Set Design Taleece Paki
Lighting Design Hannah Grech
Production Assistant Henry Taylor
Stage Manager Ebony Loloa
Intimacy Coach Diana Paola Alvarado
Dramaturg Nisrine Amine
Mentor Tash O’Brien
Producer Jacob Parr