GRIFFIN THEATRE COMPANY present RANTERS THEATRE production of HOLIDAY by Raimondo Cortese at THE SBW STABLES THEATRE.
When we climb up to the performance space at the SBW Stables you find that the whole of the interior has been painted white. (Set design: Anna Trelogan) Stage floor and walls, auditorium walls and even the further steps into the seating banks. The whiteness is quite a visual shock. Instead of the usual masking black paint there is the nakedness of the white that emphasises all the ugly blemishes of every surface. The production has been showing for several weeks, when I attend, so that there are also scuffs and blemishes on the floor surface. The lighting (Design: Niklas Pajanti) is very bright and is enhanced with party festooning of alternate naked white and blue bulbs. On the floor of the performing space is an inflated, circular, blue child’s wading pool with water and two inflated plastic balls, one purple the other clear with orange polka dots and a little further orange decoration, floating above the patterned floor of the pool. Two metal, maybe seventies, bar stools, one with an ancient beach like towel, folded and hung over the back, and an incongruous piece of furniture: a chaise lounge. On it is another old nondescript towel, it, too, neatly folded. While we sit in this slightly uncomfortable glare of white, the air-conditioning draughts, (blowing an Antarctic gale down my T-shirted neck) also pushes the plastic balls around the surface of the pool in a little ballet of movement. It is a necessary distraction of focus for we also can also “clock” the opposite bank of audience; most of them, in this unsympathetic light, revealing all their human blemishes, age being clearly shown at different stages of attack on their faces and decaying bodies, except for the horribly perkily fleshed youths, who in time I have to contemplate (and that should count the full running time (90 minutes) of the play, because they are fully visible during the performance), will swiftly succumb to time for “rosy lips and cheeks / Within it’s bending sickle’s compass (will) come”. I feebly imagine what I must look like to them(!!!), feeling my vulnerability more and more.
The lights go to a definite black out (after all that white, the contrast couldn’t be more noticeable) and when the blare of lighting returns on stage there are two people. Both embracing physically, middle age. One more advanced then the other. The actor playing Arno (Patrick Moffatt) is the more experienced liver of life, is wearing and old faded green t-shirt over his rotundity, and black, boxer like shorts cum swimmers, and sandals. The other actor playing Paul (Paul Lum ) is wearing a dark front patterned old T-shirt that really has shrunk over time and a pair of ragged jeans. The knee space on one leg is raggedly torn, the hems frayed and dragging on the floor. Later Paul strips down to “budgie” swimmers and both eventually become more vulnerable by sitting and splashing in the pool. All their body journeys revealed. Arno is clean shaven with neatly combed vanishing, greying hair. Paul has longer and abundant but unkempt hair, a patchy beard and stubble. He looks like what my mother would call “an unmade bed.” These are very unprepossessing characters to look at. Too much like real life, no effort has been made to present themselves well. These are truly two ordinary blokes - no actor glamour here. The first beat of the play is the two of them standing there looking out, unfortunately not at us but seemingly at an unfocused theatrical distance. (The writer Mr Cortese in his direction at the start of the play tells us that “the actors have full awareness of the audience." I felt that these actors, tonight, squibbed this and played in a theatre convention and did not actually see or use us, bar once when one of the balls, the orange one, was thrown into the audience (it was returned.)) After a minute or two, one of the actors sang a cappella, not too tunefully, a bit of a baroque song “My Heart Ne’er Leaps with Gladness”. (A few other snippets of similar songs are sprinkled throughout the piece, maybe to counterpoint the beauty of the poetry to the ordinary words of conversation.) There begins a conversation:
ARNO: My mum sent me this parcel the other day.
PAUL: What’s that?
ARNO: My mum sent me this parcel the other day.
PAUL: In the mail?
The conversation and the rest of the text of the play continues in a similar fashion. Conversations that are random in their connection. Non-sequential. Subject matter that has no real dramatic connection. We, randomly, get to hear about ordinary things in what might be ordinary everyday orders. Silences etc. We go briefly to a lot of subjects, interrupted by song and silences: the moon and telescopes..... the Himalayas and Nepal..... playgrounds and noise and “being able to be as silly as you like”.... imagining Mozart and Chopin.... confession and the priest... a baroque song is sung.... honesty and cowardice.... Mexican cinema.... Sufi poets.... Shakespeare and Dante.... The MAHABHARATA..... just making stuff up... I often lie about myself.... Harry Potter... another baroque song is sung...... ”So the work is captured? Put it into perspective?..... ”But are they really not aware of performing?”…. ”they’re not really trying to be interesting”… Chinese cosmology…. SILENCE. ”What are you looking at?” ”Just your face.”… SILENCE… Bruce Springsteen…. hands, spiders, hair… another song…shedding things… ”Have you been suicidal?” “No not at all.” “Depressed?” “No not at all.”…an AV (audio visual moving image) is shown, one of the actors leaves the stage, the other watches with us: a cargo ship moves across the horizon while birds wheel across and up and down the fore-front of the captured image. The other actor returns at the end of the screening with a can of Sunkist orange sparkly for himself and a Bounty bar (in a purple/blue wrapper for the other actor) they eat and drink……. ”You look tired” “ I haven’t been dreaming.” … SILENCE….
ARNO: You have a remarkable posture.
PAUL: You think?
ARNO: Yes. Perfectly straight back.
PAUL: Thank you.
HE SITS UP STRAIGHT. (The character’s posture is ridiculously not straight.)
There are enough subjects (I Have barely covered the cultural and social references mentioned) to trigger for most audiences, recognition and a sense “Oh I’ve thought that” or “I’ve said that” or “Isn’t that interesting.” Nothing is ever discussed in any depth. The conversation between Arno and Paul is totally superficial and uncluttered with any learning dramatic curves. There are no philosophical profundities made. The randomness and the multiplicity of references is what is presented. These people could be on holiday in a run down resort or suburban backyard. They are just being, living their lives, and the banality and superficiality of their conversation could suggest that they are actually permanently on holiday, from the world. The well spring of this work for Mr Cortese was “some kind of cultural investigation into holidaymaking inspired by the images of Western tourists sunning themselves amidst the carnage of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.” ( Ahhh!!)
This play and production was first presented in Melbourne in August, 2007. Eighteen months ago. It was winter in Melbourne. I imagine it was a cold set of nights and the audiences that attended were grateful to be in a warm space and wishing that they were on holiday. (Maybe on a Sydney Winter holiday.) This production and play “won five Green Room Awards for theatre, HOLIDAY is the acclaimed and enchanting production from Ranters.” The note from the back of the published Program/text talks about how “Spontaneous, unaffected and thrillingly real, innocent discussion becomes an exploration of private fantasy, hidden anxiety, personal mythology, and the most inexplicable behaviour...” “HOLIDAY is theatre at its most inspirational.” The critic from The Age describes it “-funny and light as air on the surface, with philosophical depths that will niggle you long after you leave.” Another critic: “HOLIDAY is a devastatingly elegant show.” Well, I guess you had to be there, then, to get that response.” In the Blog of SYDNEY ARTS JOURNO there is an interesting compared experience review of the two seasons. One in Melbourne and the other In Sydney, Summer in 2009. He notes the different responses to the piece. I thought it was very pertinent.
My response to the production was initially disappointing. I had read Mr Cortese’s notes on the exploration he and the RANTERS THEATRE had been making over the past few years which resulted in 12 short plays under the title of ROULETTE. “My intention was to keep the writer’s voice absent in dialogue that focused on intimacy and the nuances of everyday speech. The dialogue is generated by unconscious action, from vital needs that overwhelm during silence and without overt intrusions on the part of the characters….. I wanted to create a sense of language being ‘live’ , energised and improvisational in feel.” From the Director’s Note (Adriano Cortese) to the published text of HOLIDAY, “we wanted to challenge our own theatre practice. We did not want to create an obvious fictional demonstration to illustrate our concerns. We were interested in a documentary approach to performance.” Maybe this production has been too long in performance but my sense of what was happening in front of me was of very calculated and theatrically poised performances. Rather than the dialogue, songs and silences appearing to be spontaneous there was a decided sense that the actors were completely aware of the manipulation of the intentions of the writing and production and the affect they were to have on, us, the well lit audience, – a deliberate artificiality. There was never any sense of being anywhere else but in the theatre. I wished that the “documentary” feel had gone further than it did. I wished the actors had really being aware of their audience and engaged and used us. I wished that the silences were longer, maybe taken to more excruciating reality lengths. I felt that the performance may have backed away from it’s pursuant idealistic objectives. I wished that the production had gone further to the repetitions and observations of real silences that Pina Bausch does with movement. John Cage with music.
The music score / sound design by David Franzke was sometimes too self consciously drawing attention to itself and to the “hidden” agenda thematics of the philosophies of the creators. I personally was longing for less concrete offers. I was wanting Muzak. Something more real or “bland’. Instead I got involved in to trying to identify the marvellous range of sourced material. It was as if, sometimes that there were two plays going on: the text and the sound design.
Rather than revealing anything in me that may have had a profound resonance so that it became “inspirational”, or experiencing “philosophical depths” I became becalmed then contemplative. I couldn’t help, (probably in my Sydney smugness) to begin to think that the winter months in Melbourne must give them just too much time to contemplate their navels in warm communal spaces. Maybe it is not a good idea for Sydney to follow the example of the social gathering places of Melbourne’s wine bars and good coffee shops. It just gives too much opportunity to dream, sleep and/or see profundities where there are none, in a need to feel, that the time has been well spent in these collective gatherings. In a hot and humid summer city like Sydney the play felt silly and maybe boring. Let’s get out to the Harbour or an outdoor bar or restaurant. But, as the play wore on I shifted out of bemusement and began to find the banalities and mundanities, amusing, ridiculous. I began to comment to my friends sitting beside me and we laughed. What between the play and our collective response and watching some of the opposite audience-bank’s responses, which also seemed to warm up as we came to the latter part of the performance, we had a good time. After we had tumbled downstairs we stood in the foyer and talked about what we had just experienced.
In the intervening time between the August 2007 premiere of this work in Melbourne we in Sydney, we discussed, had seen the Ridiculusmus production of TOUGH TIME, NICE TIME, two men sitting in a sauna bath talking of the banalities of the world. Different stylistic approaches but with a similar theatrical objective. But even more pertinent to our response to this work was the memory of the NATURE THEATER OF OKLAHOMA‘s production of NO DICE. It’s examination of the verbatim conversations and silences of real people was devastatingly investigated (It was my favourite Sydney Festival Experience.) In the course of it’s three and half hour performance, it stripped back the silliness of it all to a profound and humanly humbling respect for the ordinary. Ordinary conversation and the ordinary person. So somehow this production of this play, HOLIDAY, had come too late to us in Sydney to have the impact it must have had 18 months ago.
Still after this conversation I walked down Nimrod St to the Cross on my way to my Bondi train to get home and I was wonderfully elated. The world looked OK. I felt life was good to have. So, all in all my evening at Ranters Theatre HOLIDAY had the affect that a good holiday can give you.
How interesting! This is the fourth production, and it has been consecutively attended, that have had Melbournian origins.
Playing now until 28 February. Book online or call 02 8002 4772.
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