Thursday, July 16, 2009

Theatre Down Under

Just back from Australia, where the marathoning was disappointing and painful (2 minutes off my target time and a throbbing right leg throughout due to a calf injury sustained two days before), but the scuba diving fantastic and awe-inspiring (nothing like making the Great Barrier Reef the site of one's first dive).

As for the theatre in Sydney, it was hit and miss. A preview performance of Martin Crimp's latest one-act play, The City, at the Sydney Theatre Company's Wharf 2 stage was underwhelming. A cross between Pinter (the fact that Chris becomes a butcher after losing his job is a dead giveaway) and the more metatheatrical Pirandello, the play situates family dysfunction within a surreal and symbolical framework of literary invention. Opening with translator Claire's story of a foreign author's abandonment of his child, the play ends by suggesting that Claire has appropriated both the story and the child (who makes an appearance at one point, playing the piano and reciting dirty limericks) as her own. A not terribly original linking of biological and literary procreation made all the more confusing by the seemingly pointless introduction of the Jenny character, a nurse/neighbour who totters precariously around a stage made up of a series of steep risers on high heels. The adult performers were all very sharp, but the child actor could not project, and she seemed unsure of how to negotiate the obstacle-course-of-a-stage. My exhaustion at trying to follow the plot was compounded by jet lag and an overheated auditorium, and not surprisingly I found myself nodding off towards the end of what was only an 80-minute performance.

Much better was Company B's production of Ruben Guthrie at the Belvoir Street Theatre the next evening (Company B and BST originated the revival of Ionesco's Exit the King with Geoffrey Rush that recently played on Broadway). Brendan Cowell's corrosive exploration of youthful success and excess, the play focuses on the eponymous Ruben, a whiz-kid advertising executive whose over-indulgent penchant for booze and pills leads to him thinking he can fly one particular evening. A chastened Ruben, having lost his Czech model girlfriend as a result of this latest antic, agrees to join a recovery program. As Ruben gradually internalizes, with help from his sponsor (who eventually becomes his new girlfriend), the lessons of AA, he starts to alienate friends and family: his father, himself an alcoholic, who thinks it's un-Australian to refuse a drink; his mother, who after encouraging him to join AA in the first place now thinks the program has turned him into a zombie; his boss, who claims Ruben has lost his creative spark now that he's sober; and his best friend, newly returned from New York and wondering what pod person has suddenly replaced his former drinking mate. Sharply paced and bitingly funny, the production features a career-making performance by Toby Schmitz as Ruben. I now understand why people say Company B is Australia's leading theatre company.

I had booked to see another play, The Elling, at STC my last night in Sydney, but then I injured my calf, so I opted to rest in my hotel room instead. A fat lot of good that did me two days later on the Gold Coast.

Oh well, at least the coral and fish were pretty.


1 comment:

MK Piatkowski said...

Thanks for the review. I saw Toby when he was first starting out acting in his own play, dreamalittledreamalittle (great script, if really violent), which played in the Belvoir downstairs. I'm also a great admirer of Brendan Cowell's. Glad to hear good things about their show.

I haven't read any of Martin Crimp's work but from the sound of it I don't need to be in any hurry about it.