5 Min Read

Sauve and Unpredictable: Cetus

Cetus is a science fiction mystery that leans more into the mystery genre than the science fiction genre. I would describe it as a dystopian noir.

The cold and clinical setting is presented perfectly with the right amount of detail to immerse you in what is happening in the world in front of you. The simple elements of a plain room with drawings made from only black pens by a grey-clothed Lily (Samantha Hortin) presented something between a prison and asylum.

Enter a young detective Michael, who has the suit and the inquisitive demeanour of a classic noir investigator. Jordan Valentini does an excellent job playing the young ambitious detective eager to prove his worth by solving a case. The playful chemistry between Jordan and Samantha builds subtly throughout the story. Samantha gives Lily’s character just the right amount of feisty that would be considered “problematic” by the misogynistic norms of days gone by. You can’t tell if she grows a fondness for him or just appears to in order to influence his bias and gain favour with him while he tries to prove her innocence. Similarly, you don’t always know based on his interactions with O (Ryan Marano) whose side he is actually on. The story flows well as there is a perfect harmony between the script and actors as if it was written, starring, and directed all by the same mind. Which can’t be true as there are 3 actors, and even the most talented and well-resourced wardrobe and makeup couldn’t make 1 person resemble the 3 diverse bodies I saw on stage. It was as if each actor wrote their own part as they respectively executed them so well.

Cetus. Photography Supplied.

The narrative unfolded as a brilliant example of a noir. It didn’t just feel like the genre was an afterthought to give the story a little spice, it was just really good storytelling that stayed true to the principles of noir. The mystery was pieced together by Michael gathering his thoughts and observations, then sharing them through storytelling; presenting each theory by directing the listener towards a bias. But it doesn’t lean towards cheap shots like pointing and yelling accusations on the suspect. They do a much better job of keeping it slick.

Ryan Marano nailed the part of the seedy confident CEO with more than a tinge of misogyny. Without giving too much away, his character’s intimidation by a successful woman is another classic noir element. An aggressive outburst by his character had more than one audience member jump. 

The whole show was paced perfectly like a movie, with piano tunes being the perfect accompaniment to some of the key moments. Numbers handwritten on a piece of paper were ripped off at the beginning of each scene to clearly show the interval of time that had passed between the scenes. The lighting by Jasmine Valentini unambiguously informed the audience when a flashback was occurring through white light with a spotlight-esque effect. At one point, the white light travelled across the stage following the direction of a pointed hand which made it feel like you were watching a movie and the lighting tech was the camera guy. This isn’t to try and place theatre as an inferior performance art form, but rather to demonstrate the talented ways that all these theatrical elements were used. The animated acting in the flashbacks made you feel like they were really there in the moment. But at the same time the sight of the detective there leaning over his desk going over these notes of what is being played out in the flashback makes you feel like you’re watching it through his eyes and right there with him trying to figure out who committed the crime.

Cetus. Photography Supplied.

The twists and turns were suave and not predictable, beautifully presented in a minimalist marriage of a clinical and noir setting. I was too engrossed by the aforementioned details to really find any semblance with a science fiction story. There were a few gaps in the narrative that I couldn’t figure out, such as how the conflict of interest arising from a detective being paid by someone that the audience is told to think is framing the accused, or why he chose to be locked in a room with Lily. Or even why Lily was locked in that room in the first place? The rules of this world weren’t established, which I find is important in the science-fiction genre. I’m not sure if this was a case of me failing to suspend my disbelief or if there were gaps in the writing. 

Regardless of how successful their foray into the sci-fi genre was, you cannot fault their flawless execution of the noir genre. It is worth seeing for that alone. But let’s face it, its Fringe, so you’re probably not going to read the blurb anyway before you drunkenly decide to go and see this show, are you? I’m impressed you’re even reading this review. See the show, just go straight to the “buy tickets” button, you don’t need to read all that other stuff in there.