Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Feather In The Web

Photo by Brett Boardman

Griffin Theatre Company presents, THE FEATHER IN THE WEB, by Nick Coyle, in the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. 5th October - 17 November.

THE FEATHER IN THE WEB, is a new play by Nick Coyle.

Back in 2009 we saw Mr Coyle's HAMMERHEAD [IS DEAD] and one could see the promise of a writer with a decided black-comic surreal state of mind. In Hammerhead, the hero of that play, we saw in 90 minutes his life flash past him after been hit in the head with a hammer by his sister before dying. A series of episodes populated by 'crazy' characters tickled our funny bone. At its conclusion, however, one was left with a feeling of independently funny sketches, that didn't seem to add up to much.

My experience in the SBW Stables Theatre the other night of THE FEATHER IN THE WEB, was similar.

My impressions were, firstly of a very wonderful set of performances from the actors: Claire Lovering (Kimberley), Michelle Lim Davidson (Lily, plus others), Tina Bursill (Regina, plus others) and Gareth Davies (Miles, plus others). The energy of creation and the delight in their inventions, plus a sense of a wonderful ensemble spirit, spilled off the stage continuously in an 110 minute, no interval show. Ms Lovering, Bursill, stunningly clever, with Ms Davidson creating an especially subtly layered performance - watch her quite work in those last scenes.  Mr Davies, has a wonderful clown that is the inspiration of all his offers but does not show the same versatility of character creation/demarcation of the others - all his 'others' are much the same as each other.

Secondly, the extremely good Design by Sophie Fletcher: a series of blinds, cloths/drapes, scenic back-drops painted in a gentle set of pastel colours upon which some very effective Audio-Visual's by Mic Gruchy, were projected to take us on/and to the many different locations of the play. The demands of quick change and furniture arrangements were extremely well thought through and activated. The Lighting from Trent Suidgeest, was, as usual, meticulous and aesthetically pleasing, whilst the Composition and Sound Design by Steve Toulimin supported everything demanded by the writing and the Director, Ben Winspear. Mr Winspear's staging and highly disciplined and motivated cast were arresting.

The play presents a series of comic sketches, with a central heroine, Kimberley, common to each, each relatively funny, all inhabited by really rich darkly-comic characters infused with a keen sense of the writer's acerbic observation and cauterising wit of some of the world most of this audience would live in. Kimberley, who decidedly announces to two women that she is going to the mall and never coming back, after stuffing their mouths with a polenta cake, takes us on a kind of road trip. We hitch-hike in a car with a family which ends in an outrageous crash, then, a visit with a Make-up artist in the mall which concludes in a handy, sticky, climax, and next, to a psychiatrist's office where the roles become quickly reversed. Kimberley arrives at Regina's house where she is mistaken as a hired waitress and put to work in preparation for an outdoor party. It is here that Kimberley is smitten with the bride-groom to be, Miles. So begins, nine scenes tracing the unrequited love affair between Kimberley and Miles, who in her manic obsession applies a number of relentless and extreme strategies to win her man.

The production finished and though there was much to admire, as I have indicated, even if one felt that there one too many scenes/sketches to sustain my complete interest - for instance, one felt that Scene 10, The Improv Course, although a long comic gem, didn't seem to have much raison d'ĂȘtre for being there in any constructive way for the narrative. We applauded and acknowledged the artists all involved, but I asked, as did my theatre companion: "What was that about?" We were both puzzled. Not dissatisfied but bewildered. We loved the performances.

We had a drink or two in the foyer to sort it out.

We didn't.

I went home and decided to read the play to try to solve my response, for I had heard enough clues during the performance to suggest that there may be something else really going-on beyond a set of looney Pythonesque sketches concerning the unfortunate Kimberley with her anarchic behavioural actions in a highly satirised middle class society.

So, some of my cogitations.

Says Kimberley:
I think I'm like a spider, because, I have pre-programmed abilities [...] And once I've made my web I have to wait there. [...] Even if I'm starving to death. And then one day I feel ... something struggling, something caught ... A fly. It's you. But it's not a fly. It's a feather. It's you.
 Kimberley, a young woman, following the conventions of her middle class upbringing has built a 'web' to attract and capture her man - her sustenance, a 'fly' - and discovers that the man, in her 'web', that she has been waiting for, Miles, is a 'feather' - a decorative inedible thing - not the fly that could sustain her, really sustain her. The feather in the web = Miles.

Kimberley has had a perception of the world she grew up in - middle class suburb with middle class assets - a mum who makes polenta cake and thinks she is progressive; a happy family in a car playing 'eye-spy' and having a sing-a-long with all the appearance of happiness; a mall makeup artist providing artificial coverings (a bronzer) and spewing out verbal inanities at a rate of a million miles an hour; a psychiatrist with more 'problems' than her own, and, finally, a family-to-be: Regina, a manic middle class mum with all the unfounded prejudices of entitlement both in action and verbalisation; a gormless, narcissistic son, Miles, floating comfortably on the adoration of the women and the ease of his life - a mother, a job, a gym, home; a wife, Lily, vacuous, vacant, on the typical tread-mill of social and cultural expectations in beige/white binging with pop-corn and aerated water, on a beige 'white couch, endless true crime shows which she is not able to follow. She is constantly checking her iPhone.

The Regina, Miles, Lily saga goes on for nine scenes and Kimberley succumbs to the emotional exhaustion of unrequited love and (just like Masha in Chekhov's THE SEAGULL) with growing visitations of the Aura before the Migraine, begins voluntary Euthanasia until, just before taking the second breath of annihilation, has a vision of the life she should have instead of being dead:

          I want to go to university. I want to enrol in a university and become a teacher. English. Or        geography. And then, to get married, move to a small town, and teach in a school. And have children. I'll have children. It'll be hard work and I'll love them. They'll grow up, we'll drift apart, but it'll be fine. I'll drive them to sports, and I'll see plays but no play will ever change my point of view. I won't have strong opinions, but I will get more conservative. And I'll get cancer, but I'll get over it. And I'll stay busy, and read. I'll have a dog. I'll have a garden. But then it'll come back and I'll die. And people will cry, and then get in their cars and go for lunch. And I will never be in love again. And you know what? That all sounds wonderful to me.

A reversal of all, she, in her personal 'fury', had shrugged off, beginning with the stuffing of the cake into the mouths of, possibly, her mum and next door neighbour. Kimberley a 'spirit' of protest, an 'outsider', a 'visionary' who saw the values of the world, the web, about her, stark with horror, who can no longer struggle against the tide, and at the moment of annihilation is crushed, succumbing to the system as it is. (We never know of her chosen fate.)

Then we have a coda, an Act Two, that is only one scene long. We are in a hospital and Lily is a hundred years old and is in care and is having a delusion that her nurse is Kimberley. Lily has, earlier in the play, showed intimations of a same sex attraction to Kimberley, but rejected it, pushed, brushed, it aside - for it was definitely not a part of her middle class trajectory - after all she has found a fly in her web - Miles. Lily takes the path well world worn. But she tells her nurse, who she believes is Kimberley:
Oh, Kimberley! Kimberley, I've missed you! These last weeks, or years really, I thought ... I wondered ... Because I knew you wouldn't do it. I KNEW. [...] Kimberley, it was a trap, the whole thing was a trap. I should have gone when you ... Where did you...? I could have gone when you ... 
Then, the 'nurse' tucks Lily in, checks the drip, the machines, writes something on her chart, puts the chart back on the end of the bed, [then] kisses Lily passionately on the mouth, exits. Lily, says : "Ha!" And in this production, Mr Winspear has an explosion of bouquets of flowers fire-work across the back-cloth. Lily is rewarded with the intimation of the life she suspected she could have had, now, when she is about to die - the pressures of convention having webbed her to a life of biege unhappiness.

Another speech then stood out, had sprung to mind. From earlier in the play. One from the mother figure in the play, Regina to Kimberley:
[...] Someone's in love. ... I've seen that face before. Once. In Montreal. On my very own face. I met a man in a bar. He couldn't speak English. and I couldn't speak Canadian and he wrote down his number on a piece of paper and gave it to me. But during the night a pipe burst and the room was flooded and the numbers on the paper washed away. Just like that. Washed away. That's how doors in your life SLAM. Then someone bricks them up, and vines grow over them and no-one even remembers there was a door but there was. There was! And there was a man through there, a handsome Canadian man, who I never kissed, who's probably dead now for all I know. And there are different children, and different grandchildren, who'll never be born, not that there's anything wrong with children. But a pipe burst, and here I am. In my garden with you.
Another woman webbed into the mis-chance and convention of the system.

The lives of these three women trapped in the web of societal norms.

Now, why was this not clear to my companion, a young woman, and myself in the experience of the production of the play? Mr Winspear has 'packaged' a stunning production but the cleverness of it, the coup d'theatre of some of the effects, the overwhelming cleverness of the 'sketch-like' comedy that he has drawn with his gifted actors simply fails to dramaturgically 'point' to the spine, the reason for the play. (Perhaps?) It is what I suspected with HAMMERHEAD [IS DEAD] in 2009, that there was more to the play then what we experienced. The Direction, in both cases, needed more nuance.

When one finds a writer who has a special lens through which he sees the world one must forensically demarcate the 'truth' of what he has observed and had the courage to ferociously reveal - dressed though it may be in raucous surreal tropes of black-comedy - and help the audience to see and hear the trenchant pain and critique. Nick Coyle is relatively well served by Mr Winspear, but not deeply enough. Perhaps, THE FEATHER IN THE WEB, will clarify, will distill, with continuing performances, to reveal the almost unbearable truth at the dark centre of this very, very compassionate play and playwright.
"There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes the whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own." - Herman Melville. MOBY DICK, Chapter 49, The Hyena. 
The discerning eyes of Nick Coyle and his heroic figure, Kimberley.


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