Thursday, December 4, 2008



This play was presented last year in the B Sharp Season 2007 . The creative team in all departments are the same, so there has been a year to let this work mature. It was remarkable then, it still is. This is a very exciting and interesting new Australian play and playwright.

The experience of the play is much like a psychological thriller where the chronological order of the events have been jigsawed and sorted, you are invited in to detect your way through the clues of the 13 scenes. It is a roller coaster of emotional trauma. A trauma has occurred and what we are witnessing are the probable events that led to it and the subsequent stress of the aftermath. Three of the characters are dealing with post traumatic revelations, each of them having a very emotional and personal point of view. All three characters demand our empathy and woo us to appreciate their belief of the events. As an audience member one is puzzled, confronted, led to “judgements”, which then, one, in the next scene, may be forced to re-assess and alter.

The writing (Nicki Bloom) is very impressive, both in its construction and in its handling of the dramatic dialogue. My impression last year was of a very poetic and unique voice. Some times the poet in the writer may be just a little too evident (“Transparent.” “ Translucent.” “Luminous.” I thought I might go crazy if I hear those words repeated again.) but the overall affect is of a writer in relative control of both the language and the narrative. It is refreshing to hear the confidence of this young writer been mouthed by these actors who obviously relish the text and the “glorious” task they have been given.

The direction (Geordie Brookman) is detailed and in control. The clues are subtle and the exposition of the characters dilemmas are clearly delineated. Like the writing, it is very impressive. The other elements of this production the Set and Costume design (Pip Runciman), the Lighting (Matt Cox), and the Sound design (Fergus Brown and Holly Austin) are all discreetly and appropriately handled by Mr Brookman. Simple and unobtrusive. Aesthetically pleasing and constructive to the whole of the production solution.

The performances are generally good. The two women characters are particularly outstandingly written and played. The wife, Sarah (Kate Box) is played with a masterly sense of the whole arc of the journey well under a craftsman’s control. The performance has the breathless sense (most of the time) of being experienced anew in front of your eyes. It is contemporary acting at a most breathless reality, (one holds one’s breath in anticipation of the next possibility), a sense that it is happening for the first time in front of your eyes: NOW. The technical feats of the vocal work are admirable: the use of both volume and pitch to guide you through the delicacies of the sometimes heightened poetic reality of the writing are marvellous. It is powerful in its whole affect. The mother figure, Yvonne (Heather Mitchell) is played with great emotional wallop. One is slightly overwhelmed at first at the “histrionic” emotional entrance that the actress brings right at the beginning of the revelation of the character, but as each scene unfolds the careful and sensitive artistry of thought through choices eases the first uncertain response that I had to the acting. This performance has most certainly deepened since last year’s original outing. For me, it is interesting to observe the generational differences to acting that these two actresses have to their work. The quietly evolving acceptable expression of how to tell the story is, if you watch closely subtly different. Both are wonderful but the results are contrasted delicately, significantly. One is listen, receive, respond. The other is in action, gently and expressively, all the time. One is more cinematic than the other. One is more theatrical than the other. If you look at a film like PICNIC one can see the evolution of acting for screen in front of your eyes, starkly. On one extreme, you can witness Rosalind Russell giving a “theatrically “ histrionic “chew the scenery” style of performance, in contrast to the Strasberg “method” of Kim Novak, where it seems little is happening, it is all sub-textual. (Arguably). Bridging these two contrasts is William Holden utilising both approaches as required. Here is a history lesson in acting styles and evolution captured in the time capsule of a Hollywood film. I reckon you can see it here in these two remarkable performances in TENDER.

The son (Darren Weller) is played well and is certainly more accurate than I remember it last year. The Father figure (Pip Miller) is the least satisfying. His performance has a kind of technical proficiency that gives one only a generalized emotional understanding of the character’s journey and it results in the text, the poetry of the script been “sung” for affect instead of been imbued with the moment to moment experiencing of truth. It sounds contrived and in contrast to the other performances old fashioned. It makes no other demand of you but to, perhaps, admire the acting, instead of sharing the greatly human dilemma of the man. The great tragedy of a man who has not experienced honest love, who may have had a lifetime of unrequited agony. Here too, then, is an observation of the evolving art of the kinds of acting that were once pleasing and now, maybe because of our cultural intimacy to truthful acting through film and television acting, are now just quaintly unbelievable.

All in all, however, this is a very pleasing night in the theatre. Nicki Bloom is a writer worth nurturing and following. Geordie Brookman is a very accomplished young director. Ms Box is scintillating to observe alongside the burnished skills of Ms Mitchell. An abundance of reasons to attend, and more than one usually receives in one performance.

It needs to be said: Just another worthwhile experience at the wonderfully curated and produced projects from the Griffin Theatre Company in 2008. It deserves it’s increased funding support from the Australia Council. Hard and discerning work rewarded. An enviable record of consistent achievement.

Playing now until 20 December. Book online or call 1300 306 77.

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