Double Edge provides excellent entertainment here in the damp, sweaty attic of Underbelly, the ideal venue for their immersive piece set in a 1930’s Princeton speakeasy. It is the quality of the music from the eight-piece jazz band that is worth the ticket price and that stands out in an otherwise solid but unremarkable play.
It is Alex Fane’s writing/directing debut and it is promising stuff. The scene is set with a boldly staged night in the bustling bar, with half the audience seated at tables forming part of the set. The band is amongst the audience from the start, which creates a highly effective ‘surround sound’ atmosphere; their performance, directed by Nick Goetzee, is Fane’s major asset. Renditions of Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Stardust are slick, powerful and professional, led by an effortlessly smooth vocal performance by Gus Ross Skinner.
Skinner’s central performance as new band member Nick is also among the more credible acting displays. The way Fane has scripted the piece is clever, allowing the story to develop around the band’s performance, but often the dialogue lacks originality and the young cast fail to really bring it to life. Tom Gould is convincing enough as the ruthless Tony Barido, but there is a lack of intensity to the other main characters and their inexperience shows through with poor timing and some shaky American accents (or overacted, stereotyped ones).
Fane’s writing, although strong, also often feels derivative of prohibition era American drama and this is a shame when he clearly has substantial directorial talent. There are scenes that feel entirely unnecessary too – the band argue about types of cuisine and later about Christmas decorations, but neither the dialogue nor the acting is strong enough to make these scenes worthwhile.
The atmosphere is excellent, however, and though this is helped by dripping ceilings, it is largely down to Fane’s staging and a slick ensemble performance that is theatrically promising and musically exceptional.