It is a special work that stands the test of time and retains its relevance for contemporary audiences. Michael Gow's plays clearly have that special quality. Last year Melbourne had a chance to see a new production of Away, arguably Gow's best known work, directed by Gow himself. Now La Mama, celebrating its 40th year, is presenting a season of another Gow play, Europe, directed by Cut Lunch Productions' Eddy Segal.
Europe is on the surface a love story, a dialogue between two people who had a brief affair some time ago and meet up again. A European actress Barbara (Caroline Brazier), visited Australia for a festival production, then returned to Europe and continued with her life. Australian 'theatre lover' Douglas (Travis Cotton) clearly spent the intervening time dreaming up ways in which he could re-capture the passion that was, and for him, still is. Finally he gathers up all his courage, and his money, and flies to Europe determined to re-unite with Barbara, barging, uninvited and unannounced, into her dressing room after a performance of a European classic, perhaps Hedda Gabler.
On this level Europe is funny and at times poignant as Douglas and Barbara struggle to meet across the divide of time and differing expectations. Whilst she has forgotten him and has a live-in lover, he in a boyish, naïve way has kept the flame alight, never for one moment considering that she may not be as happy to see him as he is to see her.
But Europe is not simply about these mis-matched lovers from different sides of the world. These characters are also a metaphor for the relationship between Australia and Europe, the stereotyped ideas and expectations each tends to hold of the other. Douglas is as infatuated with everything European as Barbara is attracted by his slightly uncouth simplicity. He accuses her of being patronising and she taunts him by saying that he fell in love with a naked woman, bathed in blue light and singing Wagner! Slowly but surely the patina is stripped away, the cliches exposed for what they are, cliches and hopelessly superficial, obstacles that prevent us from 'seeing' each other as individuals.
Both performances are strong and Cotton again demonstrates his gift for comedy. (Cotton wrote and performed in two shows at The Store Room at the end of 2005: The Fifth at Randwick and god, the devil and the true history of mankind.) His Douglas is wonderfully crash, childish, open, and unsophisticated. In contrast Brazier's Barbara is cool, calm and sophisticated on the surface, but we are given glimpses of the uncertain person underneath, a person who is attracted by the openness and freedom she sees in Douglas. The dialogue is sharp and pointed and the energy never lags.
Not surprisingly, its being La Mama, the set is minimal: a table and chair with a cosmetic box suggesting the dressing room; a motor-bike helmet on the wall alerting all to the fact that Barbara does not live alone! Lighting and music are used sparingly and effectively.
Europe delivers laughs a plenty, fast and cutting dialogue, and lots of food for thought. It's a must see for all who enjoy theatre with substance and a fitting celebration of Australian writing and a Melbourne institution which has fostered Australian talent for 40 years.
Cut Lunch Productions presents
By Michael Gow
Venue: La Mama, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton
Dates: February 14 – March 4, 2007
Times: Wednesdays and Sundays at 6.30pm, Thursdays to Saturdays at 8.00pm
Duration: 75 minutes approx.
Bookings: 9347 6142