Review: The Die – a portside deep-fried thriller

Ruth Agnew reviews The Die, a new drama by Joe Bennett, directed by Mike Friend and staged at Lyttelton Arts Factory.

Joe Bennett’s tale of fried fish, fate and fatality is a localised kitchen sink drama that suits its Lyttleton setting beautifully. Mack is a portside version of Death of a Salesman‘s Willy Loman, who has worked alongside his partner, Beth, in Captain Two Cook’s Fish and Chip Shop for years, while the owner lies upstairs, slowly dying. The destinies of Mack and Beth become complicated by the uncertainty that this imminent death will bring, until their futures come down to the roll of a die. 

The play is perfectly portioned with a running time of only an hour, which is more than capably filled by LAF old hands, Tom Trevella and Hester Ullyart. In fact, this piece is a prime example of the brilliant work that continues being created by this company under the solid artistic direction of Mike Friend, and Factory Manager Darryl Cribb. It was wonderful to see a full house sampling local theatrical fare. 

Tom Trevella’s portrayal of Mack is sympathetic to the plight of a man who has known no other way of life, and prefers to roll with the tides rather than swim against the current. He manages to show the likeable side of Mack whilst also displaying a passivity in the face of change that infuriates and frustrates Beth. His inaction fuels the fire in the belly of Hester Ullyart’s Beth, a bridled wild horse trapped in the mundanity of chopping chips and caring for ‘him upstairs’. Ullyart’s nuanced performance reveals the heartache of a woman who dreams of feasting on life’s opportunities, but has felt hunger enough to cling to whatever scraps she is thrown.  

One of my first part-time jobs as a teenager was at a cousin’s takeaway shop, and the cardboard box carpeting across the stage triggered memories of the hours I spent stationed at the deep fryer. Set designer Tony Geddes’ faithful recreation of the finer details of the back room of a chippery evokes a sense of mundanity and the uniformity of each day, where there are always more chips to cut and orders to fill. Bonnie Judkins’ subtle lighting design echoes the mood of the piece, shadowy and intimate. 

While the rest of the world wrestles with lockdowns and politics, let’s celebrate our local treasures, and support a play featuring two stellar actors, written by one of Lyttleton’s iconic wordsmiths, directed and produced by creatives committed to maintaining quality shows for local audiences. Book your tickets now, and as its only an hour long, you’ll still have time to get some greasies on your way home. 

The Die runs until Saturday, 6 February at Lyttelton Arts Factory, 1 Sumner Road, Lyttelton.

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