Grace Chilton brings an intensity that adds layers to the incisive writing of Brooke Robinson’s Dangerous Lenses, culminating in a performance that is bursting at the seams with tension.
Played by Grace Chilton, the lone Ann shuffles on stage at The Vaults and proclaims to no one in particular that she gets “no sleep tonight”. The stage is sparse except for the blinds that hang behind Chilton, allowing for the lighting to create stark shadows across Chilton’s face – as if Ann were a brooding film noir protagonist. Throughout Dangerous Lenses, the lighting (designed by Martha Godfrey) plays a prominent role, almost becoming a character itself.
We learn in Dangerous Lenses that Ann lives alone and diligently observes all of her neighbours, their lives unfolding before her as if they were across a television screen. Chilton imbues Ann with a combination of vulnerability, obsessiveness and skittishness that is captivating. She even conveys Ann’s mental fragility through her physicality. As Chilton darts across the bare stage in The Studio, she successfully gives us a sense of the different spaces (whether at work or in her neighbourhood) that Ann tentatively navigates. Moreover, Ann has moments of humour that Chilton deftly brings to life.
London-based Australian Brooke Robinson writes Dangerous Lenses with an undeniable sense of acerbic glee. Often, Ann’s monologues (which range from the “black hole” party one of her neighbours is throwing, to the chocolate factory in which she works) take on a poetic language which gives them a lucid feeling. Just as Ann’s sense of reality is fragmenting, Robinson gradually alters the structure and syntax of her writing to illustrate that break from reality.
Still, for all of Robinson’s rhetorical force that Chilton captures in her performance, something doesn’t quite ‘click’. At least, not all the way. To both its merit and detriment, Dangerous Lenses feels utterly cinematic. The aesthetic of film noir is appropriated but its tropes aren’t fulfilled. We capture glimpses of alluring characters as they are described by Ann but we are never given the satisfaction of seeing them beyond our unreliable protagonist. In addition, one can’t help but draw parallels between the play and Hitchcock’s Rear Window. However, Robinson doesn’t fully manage to master the denouement in Dangerous Lenses. A pivotal secret may lie at the heart of Ann’s actions towards the end of the play but this revelation unfolds with an exposition that feels heavy handed, and is contrasted by an ending that plays out too quickly.
Dangerous Lenses is pacey, and laden with intensity. Grace Chilton excels as Ann and Brooke Robinson writes with force. But a little more work could be done simply to maintain the strong pace and rhetorical force built up in the first half.