Thursday, July 20, 2017

This Much Is True

Red Line Productions present THIS MUCH IS TRUE, by Louis Nowra, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo, 12 July - 12 August.

THIS MUCH IS TRUE is the first major commission from Red Line Productions. The Old Fitz Theatre is a 60 seat theatre in the basement of the Old Fitz Hotel, in Woolloomooloo, and one of the regular denizens, one of the locals of the neighbourhood, that uses the pub as a regular drinking location and 'community centre' is Australian writer Louis Nowra. Since 2014, Andrew Henry, one of the Directors of Red Line Productions, has encouraged Mr Nowra to write a play for the theatre and here it is. It features a character called 'Lewis' and is the third play where 'Lewis' appears, the earlier plays being SUMMER OF THE ALIENS (1992) and COSI (1992), to complete what Mr Nowra calls: THE LEWIS TRILOGY.

We enter and meet some customers in the bar of a very tired space. Once we are 'comfortable', Lewis enters (Septimus Caton) and talks directly to us, the audience, as he explains his reason why he is in THE RISING SUN pub - he has just moved into the neighbourhood and is looking for a local drinking 'hole'. He has found the one and then he introduces us to the present, and some past, 'personalities' of the bar: a debt collector, Malcolm (Alan Dukes), a drag queen, Venus (Justin Stewart Cotta), a rogue chemist, Clarrie (Martin Jacobs), a manic depressive, Wesley (Ashley Lyons), a 'fixer', Cass (Danny Adcock), a financial consultant, Rhys (Robin Goldsworthy) and barmaid, Gretel (Joanna Downing). It has been one of the many traits of Mr Nowra's work to look at the underclasses, to find beauty in misery, to appreciate the 'honour' that may be found in the many (all) stratas of our world.

THIS MUCH IS TRUE, is a new Australian play, that sounds and looks like a revival of a classic of the Australian Theatre, of a past time - of the 50's-60's. You know: THE SUMMER OF THE SEVENTEENTH DOLL***- Ray Lawler; or, THIS OLD MAN COMES ROLLING HOME - Dorothy Hewett; or especially in the output of Peter Kenna, THE SLAUGHTER OF ST TERESA'S DAY and even, A HARD GOD with its love of the shaggy-dog storytelling and Irish/Aussie sentimentality and love of the 'blarney', a bragging one-upmanship. Broad comic 'characters' filled with the breath of a warm identification in cliche caricatures and situations imbued with a language of romantic argot and exaggeration. Without Indigenous or migrant character and no women drinkers, other than the pallid hippie barmaid and a drag queen. THIS MUCH IS TRUE, has elements of Mr Nowra's Uncle Bob Herbert's 1979 play, NO NAMES ... NO PACK DRILL - it, too, not shy of indulging a cultural nostalgia for the exciting Underbelly of past times of the Aussie 'battler' making the best with/of the least in World War II criminal Kings Cross. Some of it is true, but most of it is 'romance' - the romance of an underclass white set of rogues. The content of this play - a two hour, no-interval, 'hard-on-yer-bum' journey, is as familiar and, oddly, seems as welcome today, as it always had been.

Add, then, the very bold playing of the actors encouraged by Director, Toby Schmitz, the crisp, excited 'presentational' style of a time gone-bye - literally watching 'actors-on-the -stage' playing, affectionately, characters - that conjures a benign nostalgic 'drug' aura that permeates the tiny space at the Old Fitz to give, for the willing, an ecstatic high of seeing the familiar 'family-tribe' in a 'holy' tribal meeting place - the local pub, and you can glow with cultural memory radiations.

Danny Adcock has the time of his life with the opportunities of Cass, the classic storyteller who, as the local 'fixer' might be 'full of it' or not, and offers us the fun of trying to guess which story is which - bull or not! Too, Martin Jacobs as, Clarrie, the local chemical mixer - a fallen educated chemist - has a clear energy that cuts through to the crazy hilarity of his addictive service/habit to his community. Both these performances in a comic high-style of near vaudeville dynamics of hilarity - expressed, gloriously, with barely repressed energetic physicalities, on the edge of 'exploding'.

It is transfixing to remember Justin Stewart Cotta's performance as Vershinin in Sport For Jove's production of THREE SISTERS***, exactly this time last year, and watch him inhabiting a self-centred, misogynistic survivor as a drag queen star, Venus, full of self-delusion and self-pity as to why she is alone. Quite a contrast of acting bravura.

The rest of the company capture what the writer offers with appetite, with Ashley Lyons, attempting to bring some tragedy to the relatively thin story-line written by Mr Nowra, for the bi-polar depressive, Wesley. Mr Nowra is, otherwise, generally, generous to his actors giving each a time in the sun - a monologue - to give a turn on this 'vaudeville programming', a moment in a solo spotlight, on the Old Fitz stage. One must not forget the surety that Mr Caton gives to his Lewis as our interlocutor to these members of our 'tribe', with very subtle, but telling, touches of observation of the writer himself. It is a relatively thankless task for Mr Caton but is imbued with verve and intelligence, mining the few opportunities smartly.

There are some Directorial sleights of hand with the Set Design by Anna Gardiner and the Costuming by Martelle Hunt, incorporating well an atmospheric Sound Design, by Jed Silver and the dab-hand with the busy Lighting plot of Matt Cox. Mr Nowra's writing is often wonderfully robust and has an old style hyperbolic Aussie poetry about it all, bringing the nostalgic warmth, in style, of a Setting Sun, rather than the pith and promise, the sap of growth (future), of a Rising Sun.

This is a fun, heart warming night in the theatre. It demands a long sit on hard benches but with the proper pre-load, you might get through it with ease.

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