Polygraph (Theatre Works) – theatre review

A troubling mind-puzzle in English, French (often without translation) and a touch of German, Polygraph takes concentration to follow. I did finally make sense of it, I’m pleased to say, near the end. For much of the play the disparate elements appear like a jigsaw, where try as you do, you simply cannot connect the pieces.

The action is set in Quebec in Canada. Six years ago, a young woman was brutally murdered. François (Lachlan Woods), a waiter at an upmarket restaurant, has sadomasochistic tendencies. He was a friend of the woman and the last person to have seen her alive. Hence, he became a police suspect. The police interrogated him using a polygraph but withheld the results of that “lie detector” test. The consequences for François have been particularly taxing.

Photo: Pier Carthew

Lucie (Emily Thomas) is an actor shooting her first movie – a thriller. She lives in the same apartment complex as François and comes to learn of the murder and François’ connection to it. This causes her to have reservations about the film. Lucie is dating an East German man, David (Grant Cartright), who she met after a traumatic incident in which another man threw himself under a train. David happens to be a criminologist.

David and Lucie encounter François at the restaurant where François works. But this isn’t the first time David and François have come into contact.

Personal and political perspectives shift as Polygraph unfolds. Based on true stories, this is the theatrical equivalent of film noir: part metaphysical thriller, part murder-mystery and part love story. But it’s not easy to get your head around. Renowned Quebecois auteur Robert Lepage wrote the play with frequent collaborator Marie Brassard. Lepage directed – and Brassard starred in – a film version, Le Polygraphe in 1997.

Photo: Pier Carthew

This production is extremely well performed under the direction of Tanya Gerstle. The play requires a great deal of physicality. The actors literally throw their bodies into their respective roles.

I’m still puzzled, however, why so much material in foreign languages wasn’t translated. While it gives the production an authentic sound,  the audience likely won’t speak anything besides English. As much as you can possibly imagine bits and pieces of what is being said, as far as I’m concerned that’s not good enough.

Other than that though, if you like more obtuse theatricality and stick with Polygraph, you’ll be rewarded – notwithstanding some frustrations along the way. It’s playing at Theatre Works in St Kilda until 29 July 2018.

Alex First

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