Sir Robert Gordon Menzies (Peter McAllum) and General Douglas MacArthur (Clarence Thane) hover behind the action of Redheads reciting the lines they delivered during their lives; a collage of their public statements layered over the rest of the play. Sometimes they take centre stage playfully juxtaposing Australia’s present relationship with America against our past, but as I sit in the front row with my shoulders pressed against a young woman to my left and an elderly man to my right I couldn’t help but ask myself why did Noelle Janaczewska layer these two ghosts into her latest work?
Redheads follows the melodramatic lives of Ruth (Beth Champion) and Joanna (Emily Weare), two wannabe ‘twenty something’ spinsters who just want to feel loved. They’re both engaged in adulterous relationships with married men, both desperately looking to have their love reciprocated. As the play unfolds Ruth and Joanna take the audience on a journey across their triumphs and moments of weakness, all the time with Menzies and MacArthur appearing to spurt their diatribes.
The play draws parallels between the ladies’ unrequited love and Australia’s attempts to woo the United States regardless of the uneven rules of engagement, but why Menzies and MacArthur were chosen to represent the latter left me baffled. The similarity that Janaczewska identifies between the political climate of the Korean War and that of the present is poignant, but I fear it may be lost on the majority of audience members under thirty (being born in 1980 I found myself doing a little research after the show to find out exactly who these two characters were and what they had done). I’m an adamant supporter of theatre that delivers on more than one level, but in this case I actually really enjoyed the simple character driver story of Ruth and Joanna, finding the Menzies/MacArthur tangent to be a distraction.
Why you should see Redheads however is for the performances of Champion and Weare. While I feel Janaczewska fell a bit short with Menzies and MacArthur, she delivers masterfully with her two red headed protagonists. Ruth and Joanna are beautifully drawn and well rounded women who lure the audience in with their idiosyncrasies; almost an Australian take on Eddie and Patsy from the BBC series Absolutely Fabulous. Champion and Weare realise Ruth and Joanna down to every nuance, the scene they share drinking wine in a Sydney bar is a riot. Beautifully directed by Tanya Denny and their performances are complemented perfectly by Peter Astridge’s Frank, Ruth’s self depleting and deceitful lover.
The Old Fitz Theatre is intimate at the best of times, but on the night I was present for the show audience members were packed in like a train in India. While it’s exciting to see smaller productions pulling such incredible audiences, it is difficult to lose oneself in the show when you’re constantly brought back to reality by sporadic, accidental elbows in your ribs.
Reading over my own review, it seems overly pedantic; my gripes with the political collage and the overfilled theatre are really quite minor when compared to how much I enjoyed the show. Production techniques are simple and performance based, which is really where Redheads shines.
Queensize Productions presents the World premiere of
By Noëlle Janaczewska
Venue: The Old Fitzroy Theatre – Cnr Cathedral & Dowling Sts, Woolloomooloo.
Dates: 3rd – 27th January 2007
Times: Tuesday – Saturday @ 8pm & Sunday @ 5pm
Opening: Thursday 4th January 8pm (Invitation only)
Preview: 3rd January 2007 – 8pm - $16
Tickets: $19 Concession, $27 Adult, $33 Beer, Laksa & Show
Special: Cheap Tuesdays - $16 Adult, $24 Beer Laksa & Show
Bookings: (02) 9294 4296 or www.oldfitzroy.com.au