Monday June 24, 2019


July 21 2018

POLYGRAPH, OpticNerve Production at Theatre Works, St Kilda, 17-29 July 2018. Photography by Pier Carthew

Three people, three lives intertwined, three ways of dealing with truth and lies –  similar to the political landscape we live in.

We hear about a Germany being divided by a wall, East and West at the same time we hear a pathologist’s notes about a murder victim. The life force diminished whether it be a country or a person. This is how Polygraph opens, the words exactly the same. Following the three protagonists, Francois (Lachlan Woods), David (Grant Cartwright) and Lucie (Emily Thomas), each telling their own story, intertwined with each other.

Opticnerve’s new work Polygraph is everything you expect from this company and more. The production is complete. The sound, the set, the costumes, the performances and the direction. Each component blending to make the whole. The narrative draws you in. It is complex but accessible, both in English and French with a spattering of German.

David, an escapee from East Germany, is working as a criminologist in Quebec.


François, a political science student, is the neighbour of Lucie, an actress cast in a movie as a murder victim. Only towards the end of the shoot does she discover that she is playing the woman whom François was suspected of killing some years previously, and that her new lover David was the criminologist on the case and undertook François’ polygraph. 

The test acquitted Francois as a suspect but he was not told. He struggles, he rages, he takes cocaine and partakes in sadistic sexual practices, his self-hate palpable, his life spiralling out of control. They all uncover a series of unanswered questions with dire implications for everyone involved. It is like watching an autopsy, peeling away the layers trying to find an answer; political and personal.

Written by Robert Lepage and Marie Brassard, the play is based on a real-life case: the unsolved rape and murder of a young actress in Quebec City in 1980, for which Lepage himself was briefly the chief suspect. The question isn't who did it, or why they did it, but how it was done.

As a member of the audience, you are on the edge of your seat wondering what or where it will take you next. It is physical, it is tender and it is brutal. 


Each role is considered and brilliantly performed. David/Cartwright’s continued escape from an oppressed life in East Berlin – hankering to find out what it is like in the West, leaving more than his own life behind – is beautifully crafted. Francois/Woods’ anguish and rage is contained and powerful. While Lucie/Thomas is captivating and mesmerising as she weaves her way through the four lives. They each handled the two languages seamlessly. Language is no barrier. 

In the director’s notes, Tanya Gerstle says “I want an audience to experience what drives a character to act by visually fusing reality and personal perception’” Gerstle achieves this as the audience get to experience the characters’ lives and their experiences.

The sound design (Matt Furlani & Julian Dibley-Hall) with original sound composition by Dibley-Hall is beautiful. There’s a jazz feel, keeping you calm before the fall and only when necessary does it shock. Lighting by Jason Crick is moody and startling. Set design by Jelle Jager and Betty Auhl is an open stage with plastic wide strip back drop; the odd chair and bench are used well by the performers. Costumes by Betty Auhl give virtually flawless delineation between David and Francois. I loved the touch of red lips for Lucie.

Gerstle has given the actors such a wealth of room to move in. It is the best directed and performed show I have seen this year. Very rarely do you sit in an audience where its collective breath is held and not a sound is heard until the applause at the end. And how refreshing to see three performers smiling at the end of a show, breaking down the fourth wall and allowing the audience to acknowledge them. Not to be missed.



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