Monday, August 11, 2008

Codgers


RIVERSIDE PRODUCTIONS AND STEADY LADS present CODGERS by Don Reid. A World Premiere Production at the RIVERSIDE THEATRES at Parramatta.

This is a new play that has been nurtured by the Riverside production arm called BREAKOUT. (Robert Love and Camilla Rountree). It had a workshop season at Riverside last year. The play is set in a suburban gymnasium where are group of old friends, CODGERS, meet, exercise, have a community sing in the sauna and then a follow up chin wag out on the terrace with a cup of coffee and home made savoury biscuits (cheese and chutney). The action of the play passes over several weeks. It is a two act conventionally constructed entertainment with a great deal of warm hearted character driven comedy with a light underpinning of socially conscious observation about tolerance and acceptance of what some of us might call “the other”. For all of its political lightness of touch it is very accurate, touching and relevant and very useful for all of us to consider. It might help us live our lives more easily. It just might. This is more than a modest achievement by Don Reid. It may not be in “FORM” for the more informed cutting edge contemporary playwrights (look at COLDER or DON’T SAY THE WORDS, both recently at the Griffin) but in the audience I sat with on Saturday afternoon this was a thoroughly entertaining, moving and eloquent experience.

And why wouldn’t it be. The pedigree of this production is mind boggling in its richness. Why wouldn’t you get yourself out to wherever this play is performing to see these talented and sublimely experienced artists. This is a cast of some of Sydney’s if not Australia’s GREATS of the theatre. They will likely be too modest to accept me saying so and in the old tradition of the egalitarian Australian no Tall Poppies syndrome, deny it. But here is who they are: Ronald Falk, Ron Haddrick, Edwin Hodgeman, Jon Lam, Graham Rouse, Henri Szeps. Which of you will argue that this line up of talent on the one stage at the same time would not be worth the effort to catch? I can assure you, in Hearts, that it is most assuredly worth it!! I have not so spontaneously and unguardedly laughed so often and so hard in the theatre for a very long time. There is on stage, as one of the characters says “almost five hundred years” of experience. The sheer skill of deriving character laughs simply by pausing momentarily, lifting an eyebrow or gently sighing; making an entrance and do nothing but wear a new costume etc needs to be experienced by a live audience so that they can recollect why the theatre is one of our great heritages. It should be observed by every young actor and actor in training to see what it is to be immaculately attuned to your fellow players but even more importantly to the sensibilities of your audience. The gifts, the knowledge of these players are treasures of the Art Form and ought to be witnessed for your own sakes. A memory that you will carry with you for the rest of your theatre going life, bugger it, for the rest of your life, as an experience that will have enriched you and I reckon will sustain you as well in the hard times of our perilous contemporary world.

Ron Falk, one of the great actors of reaction. He listens and watches and builds his character from the offers the others give him. He demands focus and attention and repays you in gold. Here is one of Australia’s most modest actors. Professional down to the blood pumping through his heart Generous but demanding of excellence. A wicked sense of humour in every moment he creates. For those us in the know, who have watched over his vast contribution to the Sydney Theatre scene, he is what some of us call “An Actor’s Actor.”

Ron Haddrick, one of the Pillars of Sydney Theatre of The Old tote days and its reincarnation the Sydney Theatre Company, in his ability to play the straight man and time his responses, physical and verbal, accompanied by a great but modest humanity is rare to see so consistently delivered. His range of creativity is vast and one can sense it in his every moment on stage.

Edwin Hodgeman, has played more often in Adelaide and Melbourne, but when he has forayed into Sydney he has always created admiration. Here, his delicately created character is both comic and full of pathos. The character on the edge of dementia struggling with his failing powers but still defiantly alive and loyal to his history and his mates. The characters self deprecating knowledge is breathtaking in its skilful skirting of self pity and sentimentality as played by Mr Hodgeman. This performance is the one to watch closely for its exquisite sense of judgement.

Jon Lam is new to me, but his work as the catalyst to define the other codgers depth of humanity is underplayed and in beautiful concert with the other players. Dignity, great good sense and pragmatism in the face of a hostile world. His timing finely tuned, wisely tuned to the other performers. He certainly listens to his audience.

Graham Rouse, another of that modest generation of Aussie blokes who just happens to act. In my mind, forever alive, whenever I think back to his support to the great Gloria Dawn as Herby in GYPSY and even more memorably, in one of my favourite Australian plays, A HARD GOD. Here the backbone of loyalty and the exemplar of “Aussie Manly Love”. Pathos and Comedy. When it is needed, it is there, masterfully and understatedly.

Henri Szeps a much admired artist especially in the theatre as a stalwart of the Ensemble Theatre. I cannot remember Mr Szeps giving a better performance. Here he plays generously and in perfect harmony with his company of players. The compassion that he creates around the dilemma of his mates is worth observing for its tempered choices and execution. Comedy is of course Mother’s milk to him.

Mr Reid has written a script that shares the material among all his characters. Being an actor himself he has not written a small or thankless task. All the tasks are equal and he has ensured that all the roles are rewarding. He has written “private moments” for all of his actors and each of them when it is their turn, relish them with all the qualities that distinguish great actors.

The production is simply and beautifully designed by Nicholas Dare. The Lighting design by Nicholas Higgins is unintrusive and flawless. Last but by no means least the Direction by Wayne Harrison is discreet and marvellously sensitive both to the play and to his artists. Here the greatest skill of a Director is displayed. His ability to cast well. To cast strongly and to gently referee his actors to give justice to the playwright and a great entertainment to his audience.

Parramatta is the demographic centre of Sydney??!!! Maybe it is also a trend setter in theatre going experiences as well!!!

This kind of play has almost disappeared from our stages .There is sometimes a snobbery about material that is so crowd pleasing. Being popular can really upset some of the “artistes”. Rest assured being popular did not upset this audience on Saturday afternoon in Parramatta.

Where is Mr Ayckbourne on our stages, for example? He is still writing, is still funny, is still acerbic. Where is Monsieur Feydeau? For goodness sake where is Mr Cooney? RUN FOR YOUR WIFE with the expertise of artists of this calibre would be a run away hit.

Losing Subscribers?!!!! Maybe a wider curatorial vision of the repertoire of the great theatre heritage of the world and a commitment to all of your audience tastes rather than just the trends of the intellectual cutting edge would be a useful carrot to bring us back to consider going to the theatre regularly. Mind you this stuff is hard to do and maybe through our own neglect of it, not many of us know how to pull it off any more. (The recent production of BOEING BOEING in Melbourne is a case in point. This rather second rate farce has been a great success in the London and New York and I would suggest it has something to do with the skills of the producers and director in casting.)

The cast and crew of CODGERS know what they are doing Please go and learn while you can before another craft and Art form is lost to legend. Learn by attending and then practise, practise, practise.

This production of CODGERS leaves Sydney for a regional tour around mostly country New South Wales. Lucky them. It will be at GLEN STREET, Belrose 9th-20th of September. Maybe someone will find the way to bring it into Sydney proper.

1 comment:

Fiona Press said...

,

Kevin, thank you so much for your insightful and enthusiastic critique of CODGERS. Might I just offer a point of clarification in regard to the development of the production: CODGERS has no relationship to Riverside's BREAKOUT program. The original one-off public reading at the Ensemble and last year's workshop production were produced by Steady Lads - a partnership of Grant Dodwell,Don Reid and myself. We are grateful to Robert and Camilla of Riverside for backing this year's fully produced premiere season.
May it also be acknowledged that the production shots that preceed the review are of the workshop production. Photos of the current production can be found at www.codgers.com.au
As co-producer I am very glad that CODGERS was such a positive and resonant experience for you. We sincerely hope that it this will be the case for many audiences to come.