MISTERMAN

Siren Theatre Company & Red Line Productions

Old Fitz Theatre

10-27 June

Directed by Kate Gaul

Performed by Thomas Campbell

Synopsis –

Inishfree might seem like a quaint Irish town, but fierce evangelist Thomas Magill knows better. He knows jovial Dwain Flynn is a miserable drunk, that Timmy O’Leary enslaves his lovely mother and that sweet Mrs Cleary is a blasphemous flirt.

It is down to Thomas, with God on his shoulder, to save this sinful place. But the townsfolk are not listening, an angel is misbehaving and a barking dog will not be silenced. Just how far will Thomas go in his quest for salvation?

Review – Misterman, though a well written play by renowned Irish playwright Enda Walsh, one hander plays are most of the time a punish to endure, they are linear and often feel forced. It is very difficult for an actor to engage in only his/her own energy which bounces off the walls and their audience. Self engagement their only real outlet, with possible choices of  breaking the fourth wall or morphing of the many characters they have to produce…It quite often always feels like a reach that never fully extends. That, or you have an actor on stage with so many jobs to do it’s like watching a game of arcade pinball.

In this production, it felt very much like watching a human pinball bounce from moment to moment and most times from mess to mess. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the writing and I love Irish plays, but one handers just never fully satisfy my theatrical palette. The stakes for the performer are very high. Thomas Campbell who performed the role of Thomas Magill, with a passionate determination and focus carried himself well considering the density of the piece, the many characters he flowed in and out of and the very dark subject matters and characteristics that emerged. The character of Thomas Magill is intriguing, the narrative full of humour and horror making for a beautiful contrasting combination in a piece of theatre.

This contrast was not well executed by director Kate Gaul whose directing felt both rushed and unclear, with the characters objectives and intentions never fully surfacing as sharply as they needed to be. Thomas’ raging evangelism spiral didn’t come through to its full potential, and though there were some bright moments that were assisted by a very comprehensive and supporting sound design by Nate Edmondson, the staging of the piece was all too much. Set design was a mixture of nostalgic nods, suggested sugar addictions and clutter, to which grew as the play continued, with the addition of falling water, biscuits and costumes falling from “the fly” of the quaint Old Fitz space. Whatever it was Gaul was trying to execute felt gimmicky. It also felt a top-heavy job for Campbell whose physical scoring echoed that he was on a time frame that he must keep up with. There was just so much going on all the time, the production felt linear and half-baked. When it came to the climax of the piece I was so exhausted from watching Campbell jump through so many hoops I didn’t even care. This show needs to be much simpler in staging, there is so much for Campbell to focus on in his character work (which needed more attention) the set and staging elements simply drowned him. Gaul has a long history of directing and well-known in her community for her productions, this show felt un polished and below the standards expected from a director of her experience. Her casting I feel for this was not all together right, a more dramaturgical based actor is needed for this calibre of writing talent.

As Gaul stated in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, I quote, “If I said it was for advanced theatregoers, I don’t think I would be lying. It’s in the tradition of everyone from James Joyce to Beckett and everyone in between. Please, if you don’t like Irish monologues, don’t come!”

If you do consider yourself an advance theatre goer, your expectations will unfortunately not be fully met in Gaul’s production of Misterman, and I agree, if you don’t like monologues perhaps give it  a miss, but then again, I’m always hoping to be pleasantly surprised one day by the execution of one which is why I keep attending them. Sadly Gaul’s Misterman, missed the mark.

Photo credit: Diana Popovska

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VENUS IN FUR

Darlinghurst Theatre Company, Eternity Playhouse

29 May – 5 July

Play by David Ives

Directed by Grace Barnes

With Anna Houston & Gareth Reeves

Synopsis – Thomas is a director struggling to cast the female lead in his new play based on the classic sadomasochistic novel Venus in Furs. Into Thomas’ audition room blows a street smart, straight talking actor who displays an uncanny command of the material. As the audition progresses, the line between play and reality blurs.

Review –  This is a really classy choice of production by Darlinghurst Theatre Company. What a piece of work! Playwright David Ives has written a sharp, intuitive and dynamic piece of American Theatre. Having read the script myself, the characters are so rich in value that you can’t stop reading and being engaging by the rhythm of the piece with dialogue that pops right off the page, so no surprise there that it too pops off the stage. Director Grace Barnes has done an equally dynamic job in producing the texts energy, tones and suggestions of the work, sticking true to Ives set and stage directions which very much provides just as much important information as the dialogue itself. Barnes navigated her way through this script seamlessly and casted two exceptional talents in Anna Houston and Gareth Reeves. I just love two-hander plays anyway and to have Ives script brought to life by Reeves and Houston was a real pleasure to witness.

 

Venus In Fur is a play written by an intellectual, that is quite clear. Getting into the script did take some concentration but with no reservation towards its quality in writer and director. The American voice when it comes to plays is so vastly different from the Australian voice, it feels rooted in a wealth of literary knowledge which is then filtered through American character archetypes. With Australian plays they tend to be rooted more so in the Australian way of life, the literacy of living. So watching an American play from a writer like Ives, whom has cleverly plucked from the literary world to develop a play married with familiar archetypes, does takes some adjusting of the senses as an Australian audience member, I think anyway. It’s an education, as I am sure Australian theatre would be on an American stage. Continuing this thought, it made me consider how this could have influenced the actors in some way? Though I think Houston and Reeves did a marvellous job with character and delivery, the familiar archetypes of the “New York director”, Thomas and the “New York dishevelled girl”, Vanda didn’t sit as naturally within them as their stage reading characters Kushemski and Vanda. I wondered if the “continental” aspect of those characters felt more obtainable, recognisable or easier to play for Houston and Reeves. That Queen and country history to which we came from as Australians and New Zealanders. I say this as I believed them more in the skins of those characters, than the twilight reflections of their American characters Thomas and Vanda. Then again, that could be said too for the audience, me, perhaps I connected more with that aspect…who knows, but an observation none the less.

There were some moments where the pauses; which were few and far apart could have been drawn out more. This show is rather pacey in tempo, especially Houstons’ character who is like a mini tornado moving around the room. When pauses and silences did arise out of conflict they weren’t savoured long enough and I wished to relish with contemplation of what transpired with in those pauses just a breath longer. Minor adjustment to let those pauses breath a fraction more would make for tighter units of text adding to the power of the intentions behind the characters words and a refresher as an audience member.

Houston and Reeves both produced characters of succulence and beauty, carrying themselves from moment to moment with legerity and style. Two performers who have tackled the excitement of the play as well as the intellectual crux of it with whipping abilities. Venus In Fur is the kind of play that could be seen more than once and you would pick up different references, meanings, symbolic pokes and parallel character reflected intentions, it is so dense with thought by Ives there is never a dull moment for your intellect to swim through. The intentions of the two American characters are never really fully spelt out, which again is good writing. Houston and Reeves kept this mystery alive leaving morsels for the audience to pick up and digest for themselves.

Venus In Fur, is a sexy piece of theatre, produced with pleasurable effects by Barnes, Houston and Reeves. It is a play for the lace, leather, or both…in everyone.

Photo credit: Helen White