Red Ink by Duncan Graham is the tale of an altercation at a suburban Coles, told retroactively and dyssynchronously in the manner of a series of police interviews. In this minimalist setup, which lends itself to unbroken monologues, its four actors are given the space to fully inhabit their characters, building the drama towards an effective and affecting conclusion.
In part this is theatre about mental illness, and about the many ways we treat people who have some form of mental illness. Given that subject matter, there were many places where this play could have veered off-track and straight into a ditch: endless opportunities to stereotype, or dehumanise, or trivialise. That Red Ink failed to do so is testament to how well this play is operating at its many levels. In Duncan Graham's writing, Shannon Mackowski's direction, and Matthew Gregan's exceptional lead performance, Red Ink knows what it is trying to accomplish and how to then hit all its marks.
Gregan is the clear standout – he delivers an energised, sympathetic and memorable portrayal of his character – but all of the performances are outstanding. Sophia Simmons does the least, but only because she is given the least to do, playing a character who is essentially performing her own role as a rookie cop. Sarah-Jayde Tracey is effortlessly likeable as the checkout worker, giving us a character who is the easiest to identify with despite, or perhaps because of, her acerbic wit. But special credit goes to Tiffany Lyndall-Knight, for the manner in which she so perfectly realises her character as the tightly-wound, type-A soccer mum.
Red Ink is a foreboding experience, the tension rarely dipping thanks to the atmospheric, evocative, and somewhat Lynchian soundscape. This was complimented by Daniel Barber's use and placement of bold lighting effects, which never fail to shock the audience to attention. Credit also goes to the tech on the night, Ashley Ng, who nailed difficult cues and therefore ensured that the dramatic beats hit with maximum impact. It would be too much, if the script didn't find so many opportunities for laugh-out-loud humour.
There was little to fault. Aside from a few line flubs, which were not significant enough to pull me out of the experience, my sole complaint was in regards to a monologue towards the end which seemed a tad unnecessary. It made explicit that which worked well enough when left unstated, and did work to humanise a character who we already sympathised with. But these are minor complaints, not enough to sink what was a profound and darkly-funny show.
For show times and to book tickets, see the Fringe guide.