What a pleasure it is to go to the theatre and sit in a seat and have a wonderful piece of writing given to you as a reward for going. After the feebleness and the “slight” writing that we have recently been served up by The Sydney Theatre Company and other companies (notably, the Old Fitz this week: RADIO, the Upstairs Belvoir being a glorious exception: SCORCHED), it was a transcendent experience to be part of the Darlinghurst Theatre audience. This was not a chore of patience that one had to politely endure but an exciting, confronting and stimulating experience. It is all in the writing. A very taut construct, lean and brilliantly affective in its use of contemporary theatre writing techniques. Observant, tough (even cruel) but admirably wise and witty this is approximately an hour long. Similarly, Radio is an approximate hour. It however felt like a life time of endless banality whereas this is a flash of exhilarating lightening.
The text as been served by the Director, Anthony Skuse, with great respect and clarity. This director attempts to clarify the writer’s intentions and does so without employing gratuitous Directorial “tricks”. Simplicity is the essence of the direction. This is more to be admired if you have read the play as it offers tantalising problems for the artists to solve to reveal its gifts. This material is not for beginners. Mr Skuse has done well. A tremendous relief after having to attempt to sort through the extraneous offers at the recent production of ARABIAN NIGHTS at the Stables. A writer appreciated and lovingly investigated.
The acting is very good. Committed, if not completely satisfying. The best performance comes from Sam Haft. Here is an actor of insightful intelligence. Intelligent not only to the wit (comic and otherwise) and depth of the material but with an actor’s intelligence of craftsmanship that he employs accurately to achieve his affects to explicate Mr Ravenhill’s words and story. There is a relaxed assurance that he is in command and he makes you attend with a subtle alertness that gives one the catharsis of feeling very clever. He has manipulated his gifts and talent around the Ravenhill “feast” of language and insight to make us believe that we are super intelligent!!! Mr Haft’s performance enhances one’s opinion of one self and totally affirms the greatness to be alive. He is, indeed, in this performance a very good actor. In fact Sam Haft has done this before for me. It was in a small Co-op production of Joe Penhall’s SOME VOICES a few years ago. This was an English play about schizophrenia.
What is it that distinguishes Mr Haft’s work from his companion players? They are giving quite good performances but there is a marked difference….. On reflection I believe it is the authenticity of Mr Haft. The director has permitted the actors to use their own Australian dialects. Mr Haft is a British born Australian and there is a strong onomatopoeic English quality to his vocal work that gives the words a muscular resonance that translates into a thoroughly comfortable identification of truth. Of the four actors he resonates a kind of cultural identity to the origins of the writer’s words that rings with authentic and unequivocal cultural knowledge. The other actors, for me, succeed less and less as to the broadness of their Australian sound. Lisa Griffiths is the more successful of the women and although there is good acting from Angela Bauer it is the less pleasing because of her sound, which then brings us to Guy Edmonds whose sound is so broad and “ugly” that it almost but not completely subverts his otherwise good work. I know that there is a trend in the Australian Theatre context (at least in Sydney) to reduce the English speaking writer’s works from other countries to our own onomatopoeic qualities but I would argue that it is a diminishment of the these writer’s craft and art and can often cause muscular and musical intonations that are not supportive of the writer’s intention. (Is it like using a didgeridoo to play the trumpet section in that symphony??) Is it just that the actors don’t have the confident armoury of training in dialect to do it? I know it is a tremendously focused and time consuming task to perfect. But I would assume that every actor worth engaging for this particular task would have the aspiration and the techniques to solve the craftsmanship of that job. Is it just laziness or pressure of time? Surely it is just a skill that can be learnt and practised??!!!! Now, I do not suggest having the right sound will give these actors the same cultural heritage authenticity of Mr Haft but I feel it will certainly go a long way to homogenising the acting experience these actors are giving their audience. This is a debate for the artists in Sydney. The audiences may not quite know why it is not perfection but I bet that there is an unconscious dis-ease. Not quite able to put their finger on it. Is this it? An acquiescence of skill developments for simply reducing this text and characters to a safely personalized self? Rather than a stretching into the imaginative and skillful expansion of the artist, into the character on the page as conceived by the writer?
Enough! This play is about totally reprehensible members of our society. That they are artists make it in more alarming for those of us that believe that, that is our profession. Mr Skuse in his program notes suggests this is “a subtle reflection on friendship and moral disparity.” SUBTLE!!!! No this is a full on ugly revelation of the worst of the possibilities of the human species in the guise of civil relationships, (the Cain and Abel), the brothers, the neighbours, the friends that are harbouring the greatest bile for each other and when given the opportunity, are, only too released to wreak horror. Look at the Civil wars of our era.
“Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies” a quote in the program from Gore Vidal reflects the elegance of that writer but not Mr Ravenhill, our writer, in the ferocity of his pessimism about the human animal, is, anything but elegant. It is brutal confrontation. To laugh and to make it about them, those artists, the others, is the best way to deal with this. But the satirical knife cuts deeper, on reflection, of what one has just observed. If you thought Evelyn in Neil Labute’s THE SHAPE OF THINGS was a reprehensible artist/individual just wait until you meet Mr Ravenhill’s four in pool (no water).
Production wise Mr Skuse has elicited the best work from Jeremy Silver since his brilIiant Sound Design for CAPTURE THE FLAG a few years ago. This design is complex, full on, but always persuasive and supportive of the action. The beautiful use of microphoned and echo of some live sound is wonderful. The Set Design by Rita Carmody has a beautifully conceived green fluorescent sculpture across the stage. It has the reflective beauty of a simple choice and look but it sometimes causes clumsy physical choices for the actors as a result of its height and positioning and is unfortunately surrounded by the well lit actual stage wall surround of the theatre that is pitted with doors and other paraphernalia that distracts from the aesthetic affect. The costumes look like the actors clothes and do not sufficiently reflect the world of these artists. On my way to the theatre I just happened to walk into the Art School in Darlinghurst to the Gallery there, and none of these clothes would have been worn by those aesthetes. I was not convinced by the Costume Design.
Now, I know that I have been raving and maybe it is just in reaction to the mediocrity of my recent experiences in the theatre of late. But definitely the text of this play is worth your time and money. Everything else is good just not as great.
This is a Co-Op production.
Now playing until 20 September.
Book online or call 02 8356 9987.