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Emergency: Space Programme | NIDA
Written by Jack Teiwes   
Friday, 28 November 2008 11:13
Emergency | NIDALeft - NIDA Graduating Directors

Reviewing graduate shows at NIDA and VCA has become something of a must for me, presenting as it does some of our best emerging talent. This time around the focus was not on the outgoing group of acting students, however, as Emergency comprises the graduating projects of NIDA’s Director’s Course.

Appropriately then, what was on offer were three very different one-act plays with strong directorial visions behind them.

And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens is a wonderfully poignant 1950s Tennessee Williams short, in which a lonely, aging transvestite in New Orleans brings home an uneasy sailor in a neurotic bid to regain some intimacy in his life, only to find that this arrangement takes a decidedly unpleasant turn. It is classic Williams, but being one of his “suppressed” pieces (Williams refused to allow it to be performed in his lifetime and the play finally saw publication in 2005) it has the added benefit of tackling with far greater explicitness his recurring theme of homosexuality as merely alluded to in his more famous works like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This is particularly gratifying, as it gives us a deeper, more direct portrayal of the kind of society in which Williams’ many characters existed, where people lived in and around such powerful taboos, but this time we actually get to see those secret lives in greater detail.

Deftly directed by David Harmon, the piece resonates with the sensibilities of this bygone time and place, a culture whose views on southern gentility and sexuality may seem very distant from NIDA’s Parade Theatre in 2008, but are no less engrossing as a result. Harmon has put together a deceptively languid piece that is, in truth, a very tight bit of work, with an eye for detail and subtlety that richly brings out the considerable emotional subtext amidst a convincing evocation of period.

Much of this comes to the fore in the marvellous performance of guest artist (graduated actor) Anthony Gooley as the titular “queen”, who brings such overwhelming pathos and credibility to the potentially campy role that you almost wish he’d try Blanche DuBois on for size. Having seen Gooley before in some far more outrageous comedic roles, to see his range in taking on this part is very impressive, and his will certainly be a career to watch. Also very good is fellow lead Anthony Taufa as the sailor, who makes his character’s unpleasant twist seem entirely credible and quite confronting. An extremely effective and engrossing production all round.

By way of a rather striking comparison, In the Solitude of Cotton Fields by Bernard-Marie Koltès is the most unengrossing piece of theatre I’ve seen in a while. Which is not to say it was in any way bad – the production had many fine qualities – I just personally found it a particularly… impenetrable script. This late ‘80s French play came across as heavy on the existentialism yet light on the compelling human drama, which is not really a preferable chord to strike when following as captivating a piece of work as the Williams. A rumination on the concept of “the deal”, the interactions between a seller and a buyer and the powerplays inherent in such an interaction, it is a virtually actionless two-hander which plays out in what seems like a series of long, vicious speeches as opposed to actual dialogue.

I don’t wish to trample too hard on the piece as it was essentially just the material that was not to my taste. Director Morgan Dowsett did a good job getting his two actors to invest as much intense emotion and conviction into their performances as the script allowed, and his in-the-round blocking and use of hanging lights (part of the excellent set design of Tess Negroponte) were very effective in externalising the shifting balance of power between the characters. However, the use of body mikes to give their voices greater dynamic range and a sense of creepy intensity over unsettling ambient music seemed an unnecessarily Koskyesque choice, and I would have much preferred to have seen the actors conjure the same tension with their performances alone.

Dale March as the Dealer had an excellent ambiguity to his characterisation (undercut a whisker by the strong shafts of light emphasising his prodigious sprays of saliva), but the standout was definitely Aimee Horne as the Client, delivering a blistering performance that seemed just as intense in seething silence as when mid-monologue.

Returning back to the theatre of the ‘50s the evening’s programme closed amidst many laughs with Eugène Ionesco’s classic The Bald Soprano. A delicious feast of absurdism set in an upper-crust, uptight British household, one eccentric couple receive another as guests before being called upon by a Fire Captain, who seems to know their maid a bit too well… No moment goes on for long before the bizarre wordplay and non-sequiturs start to gain momentum, and the pomposity of British respectability is the perfect environment for this assault on both good manners and apparent reality.

The mood is captured perfectly by director Sarah Giles, who pitches the necessary levels of wacky energy and deadpan while steering clear of buffoonery and preventing tongues lingering too long inside cheeks. Indeed, there are even some moments where things become so intense that the mood turns momentarily disturbing, a testament to her excellent control of the play’s peaks and troughs.

With the largest cast of the three plays, Giles is blessed with an excellent ensemble, but particular praise must go to the considerable comedic talents of Jacinta Acevski as the Maid and the chameleonic former student Yalin Ouzucelik as the Fire Captain, who continues to go from strength to strength. A bookend voiceover by the venerable John Gaden certainly doesn’t go astray either.

Emergency [Space Programme] displays some prodigious new talent, and although it is the powerful and charismatic actors one notices most immediately, this is the Directors’ showcase and it is a fitting one for their impressive and varied abilities. Although you may not find each of the three plays to your liking, one gets a strong feeling that this is a group of theatre-makers whose work we will come to benefit from many times in the coming years.

Read our review of the Emergency [Studio Programme]»


NIDA GRADUATING DIRECTORS
a.k.a. THEATRE FORWARD present
EMERGENCY
A season of six short plays

Venues: Parade Theatres, NIDA | 215 Anzac Parade, Kensington
Parade Studio and Parade Space
Season: 26 – 29 November 2008
Evenings: Wednesday 26, Thursday 27, Friday 28, Saturday 29 7.30pm
Matinee: Saturday 29 November 2pm
Prices: Adult $25 | Concession $15 | Groups 10+ $15
Bookings: 1300 795 012 or www.ticketek.com.au
Info: www.nida.edu.au


SPACE PROGRAM

And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens by Tennessee Williams
Director: David Harmon

In the Solitude of Cotton Fields by Bernard Marie Koltès, trans. Jeffrey Wainwright
Director: Morgan Dowsett
 
The Bald Soprano by Eugène Ionesco
Director: Sarah Giles

STUDIO PROGRAM

Fortune and Men's Eyes by John Herbert
Director: Kate Revs

This Property is Condemned by Tennessee Williams
Director: Imara Savage

How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel
Director: Mark Grentell
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