Monday, February 18, 2013

Dreams In White

Photo by Brett Boardman

GRIFFIN THEATRE COMPANY presents the World Premiere of DREAMS IN WHITE by Duncan Graham at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.

DREAMS IN WHITE by Duncan Graham is directed confidently by Tanya Goldberg. Her cast comprising Lucy Bell, Mandy McElhinney, Andrew McFarlane, Steve Rodgers in multiple roles and Sara West in a solo requirement, as the young daughter, give performances of great commitment and skill, switching from one persona to another without hesitation, from demand to demand made by the writing. The Design by Teresa Negroponte, of a charcoal grey floor and walls with white opaque screen of sliding door and back drop, and gleams of silver edges, ingeniously stands in for many different locations, assisted by deft lighting by Hartley T A Kemp and supported with a moody and atmospheric sound composition by Kelly Ryall. All the artists bringing this script/play to life are top notch. The best reason to see this performance.

The play itself is not very interesting. The subject matter based on a true life story of a man living through two identities that unravel when mayhem for one of the identities leads to his murder, followed by a subsequent investigation, uncovering the double life, covers very familiar territory. It is not very arresting or handled in a way to make it so by the writer, except as an episode in UNDERBELLY PART VIII, perhaps. Indeed, I felt this territory was covered recently, more interestingly, with social and political integrity and resonating power, in the film ARBITRAGE (2012) - different but much the same premise - , written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki with Richard Gere giving an outstanding performance with support from Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling and Tim Roth.

DREAMS IN WHITE asks: Can anyone really know anyone else? It is about the secret lives of others. The secret lives of our closest. Our own secret life. About the damage the discovery of that secret, other life can have on others.

Mr Duncan announces this theme early, obviously, and too many times. The story information in the scenes repeat over and over again such that the movement of the action of material in the storytelling is more than glacial and the character development almost indiscernible. The cross cutting from the two families, at first confusing, and then tiresome. The secondary , alternate plots, of the house buying, and that of the daughter, almost completely unnecessary. It is a truly static piece. Observed and solved in a gist by the alert, it continues to play on for some considerable time.

 I longed for it to finish, no matter the high quality of acting and daring exposures of character from Ms Bell, Mr Rodgers and McFarlane. I had a good book waiting, calling me, from my satchel under my seat. I was with a friend I had not seen for months -let's go and catch up. DREAMS IN WHITE was not grabbing me in any essential or unique way.

 I mean, do I need to care about some middle class social contrasts, their arrogances, and their sex lives, and adventures to slumming in it?  No.

When all the world is burning up does this subject matter count for much in the big picture of contemporary life? No.

Just how concerned can I be for the consenting sex indulgent who harm themselves? Not much, really.

 Read of it in the tabloids: $2.00. Watch it on commercial television almost every night, for free. No need to go to the theatre for these worlds. Especially, when all we get is: here are some people behaving consensually and these are the consequence. There is no social explanation or moral debate about the subject matter of the play, nor are we led, invited, to ponder one. It just is. It felt to me to be a jigsaw jumbling and nothing else. Titivating crime schlock, with one moment of gothic comic horror - unintentional, I think. I hope. At least I can throw away the newspaper or turn off the TV , if I find the material boring or trite with no point of view of any portent - far to rude to get up and leave the theatre - especially this theatre.

 There is so much else to write about of vital importance for the survival of our civilization. Please read my response to RUST AND BONE and HOLLYWOOD ENDING, two other works produced recently at this theatre.

When one looks at the material that Ms Goldberg has chosen to give us in this theatre before: WAY TO HEAVEN, THE STORY OF MARY MACLANE BY HERSELF, one wonders what she thought was so imperative about DREAMS IN WHITE that impelled her to give it at the Griffin in 2013. Her other work being of such passionate value and importance. If this is the best of the Australian writing available to the Griffin Company, give us some other International work of real meaning and challenge.

Duncan Graham, the Writer, tells us in the program notes, with a lot of other almost impenetrable stuff, that he is "…in search for volatility: a poetic and political theatre that allows the darkness outside the edges of authenticity to disturb our view. To shatter the mirror." If only, I say. The text as we see it did not supply any of those aspirations, for me.

Tanya Goldberg, the director tells us, in her notes to the production, which I can only, in hindsight of the experience of the play and production, judge as an example of  extreme promotional spin, that "This brave, immediate play is a thriller and a meditation, a question and a proposition, a dream-fiction and very, very real."

If only, if only, if only.


That Guy said...

"If this is the best of the Australian writing available to the Griffin Company, give us some other International work of real meaning and challenge."...

Or alternatively, give Australian work a good second production. One of the greatest issues in Australian Drama is that very few plays get a chance for that important second-production - something that can give the work an entirely different perspective. There are plenty of recent australian plays of high quality that have not recieved a second production - One I can think of off the top of my head is Jonathan Gavin's "Bang"... Second view theatre is very very important.

kevin jackson said...

Dear That Guy,
I agree, both generally and specifically, for BANG was a wonderful play. It was also a wonderful production. I hope it could be matched with a second production. The casting was a great strength.

Of course, what I am saying, in my opinion, is that DREAMS IN WHITE is, in subject matter, not necessary at all. The play at the Griffin could not have a better production - it is the play itself that I find not interesting. If the Australian play content is not arresting enough, look elsewhere to keep the audience challenged.

John said...

You have highlighted some problems in this play that the violence of its climax and the immediate post-show fascination of linking it to the particular 'real life' case it most resembles may make some audiences forgive and forget...I agree: it creates a subplot that doesn't go much place (and I wanted it to) and some of the time shifts were confusing and abrupt. I also felt that the writer was holding back a little with the characterization of the wife: particularly with Lucy Bell playing her, one felt as if she were working towards a scene that didn't quite eventuate. BUT I still am very glad I saw this play, primarily because of the quality of the performances. It was a particular pleasure to see Andrew McFarlane give such a strong performance after the lightweight David Williamson play a year or two ago at the Ensemble, when I last saw him on stage. And among Steve Rodgers' performances that I have seen this ranks as the best. As I write, the image of him trembling and defiant comes back to me, and makes me pause as I try to see it more clearly...