|Photo by Leila Kaawi
Hobo Collective in association with Tamarama Rock Surfers presents THE HIGHWAY CROSSING by Jaan Tätte, translated by Hendrick Elstein, at the Bondi Pavilion Theatre.
Two romantically committed young people, Roland (Hendrik Elstein) and Laura (Aimee Horne) hitch-hiking to a birthday celebration are stranded at a highway crossing, and as night and the cold settles in, look for refuge, down the track, at a house where they encounter Oswald (Iain Sinclair), a man used to being alone, who in the course of this night changes their lives. Oswald offers the young man "one billion dollars" for him to forget Laura and leave; and to Laura, ''three billion dollars" for her to stay, and, for her love. The text is a mystical mix of fairy story and reality. The fairy story is a famous one in Estonian culture (I am told every school child over there, knows it) of a fisherman who catches a gold fish, who speaks and bargains, in return for its freedom, three wishes. Oswald believes he has just such a bargain, for, in the back room of his house and in the kitchen dresser draw, there are piles and piles of money-billions. He had set a fish free. The money, his first wish. Laura is, apparently, his second wish. His third wish.... is the story of THE HIGHWAY CROSSING. For, later, an armed man (Sam Haft) arrives with a gang to reclaim money they had stoushed after a robbery.This vibrating tension between the odd fairy magic and clear ugliness of a real world gives the play a tantalising attraction and enthralling journey where one's curiosity is baited and bated.
THE HIGHWAY CROSSING is a play by Jaan Tätte, an Estonian playwright, actor and singer/songwriter. According to Mr Elstein, who has brought this play to our attention, he is the contemporary writing "hot shot" over there. Well he may be, if this is representative of his mind at work for the theatre. This play and production was one of the most satisfying nights I have had in the theatre for a while.
The Hobo Collective and Iain Sinclair, have with the special assistance of Hendrick Elstein - an artist of Estonian heritage - adapted and translated the original into a very intriguing experience. Luke Ede, has mastered the very awkward stage of the Bondi Pavillion and using raw wooden slatted floor platforms, found old wooden furniture of odd pairings and colourings, but resonating atmosphere of a damp and spooky house (Ted Kaczynski, the una-bomber may have lived in it!), with a wall hanging of autumn coloured plaid, designed, a totally believable space - effective wooden, smoky stove and interesting props keeping one subtly engaged and connected to the spoken text. The lighting by Nick Rayment is sensitive to the Mr Ede's design, atmosphere and narrative needs of the story, and is a weighty asset to the look and belief of the room - together, the two artists have created a space both ominous, and yet, potentially magical.
However, the key design element, is a fully immersive Sound and Compositional soundtrack/score that is particular to every shift of development in the story telling, the subtle cueing and minutiae of construction, telling, and a major 'character' in the events of the production. Nate Edmondson is the artist responsible.
Mr Sinclair, as director, has cast himself in the central role of Oswald and is a figure with his shape, beard and costume, of intrigue and dimensional possibilities (although there was a slight tendency to overplay to begin with, gradually finding a less nervous equilibrium as the story unfolded). Mr Sinclair opens and closes the play sharpening a dangerous looking knife on stone whilst singing to himself. Sharpening the Subtle Knife (Philip Pullman!) to cut into time for entrances to other dimensions? The creation of Oswald, ultimately, haunting, frightening and truly, one of agonising pathos.
Ms Horne's Laura was consistent and grew in her tasks as the story unwound, while Mr Elstein was, from first minute to last, magnificently simple, elegant and intelligent in his calibration of the character of Roland. The truthful grounding, appreciation and use of given circumstances, from the entrance of the character to the intelligent dealing with the mounting 'pressures' of the events of the story, were so subtly told, by Mr Elstein, that a great deal of the success of a constant belief in all that was going on, can be laid at his performance affect. Though, there is no doubting of this company's sense of ensemble sharing, with the final contribution and integration of the work of Mr Haft, who, latterly, creates a figure of reality and threat, to complete this team of storytellers.
Mr Sinclair seems to have re-found his strengths as director, as THE HIGHWAY CROSSING has the sense of intelligent plotting and conceptual control that was so exhilarating with his KILLER JOE production, Downstairs Belvoir, a little while ago, which he seemed to have lost with an under prepared, stylistically inconsistent production of ROPE at the Bondi Pavilion last year, and an imaginatively 'engorged' production of BLOOD WEDDING at the Sydney Theatre Company.
The Tamarama Rock Surfers have persisted with the use of this venue that still, does not attract the audience numbers it should. The theatre is an odd shape to work in, but, as demonstrated by this production design, can be solved. The theatre is positioned in one of the fabled destinations of Sydney tourism - right at Bondi Beach - with easy access to public transport and with loads of parking (I presume!) if you drive, and restaurants galore all the way round the site and the beach - no Hats to some Hats!!!! Great if this theatre can take hold as a viable venue for the performance arts. It, of course, has a lot to do with intelligent curating and well supported production values. The audience must always be front and centre in the thoughts of the Tamarama Rock Surfers artistic team to help encourage consistent patronage. Consistency is an important part of audience loyalty and patronage.
THE HIGHWAY CROSSING was a first-rate production of a very intriguing play. I am glad to have seen it. What else has Mr Tätte written? I am curious. Thanks to Hendrick Elstein for his offer. Best wishes to the Hobo Collective, if, it maintains the adventure of its repertoire interests. There last work, MEN WITHOUT SHADOWS by Satre, was the exposure of a writer and play that was also enhancing to have seen.
P.S. There is a 1998 film version as well.