Madeleine Jones, Francesca Savige and Zindzi Okenyo in Girl In Tan Boots (Pic: Patrick Boland)

Hannah has disappeared. The first we know of this is through a missing persons detective, who’s looking after Hannah’s cat, Cupid. Collide and Griffin Independent’s world premiere of Girl In Tan Boots is written and produced by Tahli Corin; directed by Susanna Dowling.

Katren Wood’s stark white set design is matched by Teegan Lee’s glaring lights, together conspiring to create a sense of profound emptiness. Hannah, we learn, is (depending who you ask) slightly above ideal weight-for-age (she’s 32), has eczema, has had a fallout with her parents and is on the desperate and dateless side.

As a consequence of the last, her not-so-well-meaning workmates have encourage her to engage with the commuter personals in the freebie daily rag of which almost any train traveller will be well-aware. Like a woman clinging to a mannered romance after Jane Austen, or a full-on bodice-ripper by Jackie Collins, Hannah hangs on the prospect of reading something identifying her as the object of someone’s attention and, perhaps, affection. Next thing you know, she’s disappeared.

And so, we meet Detective Carapetis (Linden Wilkinson), who herself seems lonely, if not exactly drawn to pathetic, last-ditch attempts at finding company, like dating sites. Notwithstanding Wilkinson’s credentials, she seems to wrestle with the role a little, not entirely comfortable with her flat feet. In truth, her apparent discomfort and slight nervousness (manifest in the odd fluffed line) points to the whole play looking just a little ragged and undercooked.

It’s also a little confounding: conceptually, narratively, dramatically and emotionally. Disappearance is a tragic premise and though any subject should be and is fair game for leavening with humour, Corin seems to have confused herself and her purpose by getting rather carried away with three office bimbos, in Lucy (Francesca Savige), Mandy (Zindzi Okenyo) and Katie (Madeleine Jones). While these characters and the relationships between them, both as written and played, are highly amusing, this carry-on proves a rather odd distraction and momentum-breaker, as regards the kick-off thread, which implies cracking the case.

This isn’t to say the play doesn’t have its compensations and strengths. Firstly, the performance variables of which I speak are marginal, so let’s keep that in perspective. Secondly, it could be argued the heart of the play isn’t narrative at all, but ideas-driven: there’s quite a focus and emphasis on the fleeting, vacuous fancies of fashion and our unholy, inexplicable obsession with them. This being an all-female cast, Corin seems to take aim at her own gender as the primary perpetrators of this practice, or victims of this disease.

Incidentally, though I’m unsure as to why, there’s magic here, too. “Real” magic, in the form of illusions. These occasional interludes hint at the unexpected ending which, for mine, no pun intended, was something of a copout, as if Corin didn’t know where to take or how to resolve the piece. And while the mock-cinematic rewinds and televisual, pseudo-CSI sound effects are also entertaining, they’re a bit of a gimmick, eliciting only cheap laughs (including my own, it has to be said).

The only intrinsically interesting character, apart from the mysterious, unseen (other than as a mannequin) Hannah, is Carapetis, whose obsession with finding missing persons and restoring them to their loved ones, which she clearly takes very personally (she can recite the list of tending-to-cold cases in her care), seems to be a subconscious preoccupation geared towards finding some connection herself. But, again, this depth and pathos seems out-of-step with the playwright’s penchant for more trivial, comical characters, around which, one might speculate, she has some kind of agenda; though the dissonance between Carapetis’ reclusive burial in her profession and the promiscuous, socially-mediated young women she encounters does set up a kind of psychological tension which takes the play not yet another place.

The trouble is, for mine, it tries for too many things and emerges as not having ticked any one box cohesively. In other words, the play itself is promiscuous and emulates the blink-of-an-eye attention spans that tend to be germinated by wholesale immersion in the Twitterverse.

Odile Le Clezio is effective as Hannah’s self-deluded mother but, for mine, the most distinguished performance is by Sara Zwangobani, as Antonietta, the only character who knows her own mind.

Girl In Tan Boots is but knee-high to a grasshopper in terms of its theatrical focus, which is captivating, but blurred and all too diffuse, meandering like a lost creek trying to find its way to a river.

The details: Girl In Tan Boots plays Griffin’s SBW Stables Theatre until April 20. Tickets on the company website.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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