A play about life, love and politics, Hannie Rayson’s Life After George is a tale of the intertwined stories of some intriguing but ultimately flawed characters. Intriguing but ultimately flawed would also be an apt description of New Theatre’s current production, although I can’t quite put my finger on its own particular failing.
The drama concerns the sudden death of highly respected leftist academic Professor Peter George in a small plane crash, and the impact that his death, but more importantly his life, had on the women he has left behind: his first wife Beatrix the artist, his second wife and later his Dean (and thus boss) Lindsay, and finally his grown daughter Ana and his third wife Poppy, who is almost the same age. Told via extensive flashbacks, George’s various inadequate relationships as a father and as a husband to successively younger wives are explored and intermingled with his passion for the political activism of his increasingly distant heyday in the late ‘60s and ‘70s.
Although certainly an egocentric philanderer, the play makes the wise choice of not simply demonising George, showing instead that all the characters have deep foibles and inadequacies which tie them together. It is very much a tale about a flawed man and the flawed women who are drawn to him, yet it is also something of a meditation on the death-throes of political idealism and the gaining of knowledge for its own sake. This is certainly a play by and about Baby Boomers, and Rayson clearly has an axe to grind about the corporatisation of universities in Australia. Although this rings true the execution becomes something of a soapbox at times, although George is certainly the sort of man who loves to stand on one, even if perhaps only as Rayson’s mouthpiece.
What confounds me about this production is that it was actually quite slow, dragging considerably at times in a way which was not at all the case in an MTC production of a few years ago. Having seen Rayson’s play work very well in other hands, this production was unsatisfying. However, I cannot account for this as simply being the result of notably inferior acting, directing or production design. Ray Frankel’s staging of Life After George contains no obvious flaws, the restrained set and scenic art by Stuart Grigg, Peter Walton and Daisy Davidson is well-conceived, and perhaps most importantly the cast is strong.
Had I not seen the previous production I would have suspected that the fault lay in the script itself, so I’m led to wonder if there is some difference in the texts used, if perhaps the MTC version had benefited from additional dramaturgy to which The New’s did not have access, or if perhaps an earlier or later revision of the playscript was used. Whatever the exact cause, I was disappointed to find that this otherwise engrossing play was often quite lackluster in this instance.
Nevertheless, the actors deserve praise. Christine Greenough was well cast as Bea, the one completely non-academic character whose attempts to be a peacemaker at times descend into a tyranny of kindness. Ali Aitken was very believable if a little too unsympathetic as youngest wife Poppy, and although Errol Henderson somewhat lacked the dynamism attributed to George, he managed to capture his essential passion and foibles very well.
Especially good was Kath Perry as Lindsay, not only for her compelling portrait of a controlling and embittered Dean committed to wooing the very capitalist forces she battled in her youth, but especially her ability to slip effortlessly into the very different characterisation of her decades-younger self, complete with awkward girlishness and youthful vim. Kristie Jane Hogan was excellent as the depressed and aimless Ana, delivering a highly engaging and nuanced performance that makes her petulant character nonetheless sympathetic. Although playing by far the smallest part, John Keightley delivers a very strong turn as the gentle, stoic Duffy, George’s best friend. His moment of suppressed but intense grief towards the end of the play was moving indeed.
I hope that The New’s production of Life After George tightens up as its run continues, as it is a play with a strong cast and important things to say.
new theatre presents
LIFE AFTER GEORGE
by Hannie Rayson
Venue: new theatre | 542 King Street Newtown
Dates: 26 April – 26 May 2007
Times: Thursday – Saturday @ 8pm, Sunday @ 5pm
Tickets: $27 / $22 / $15 school groups / $10 Preview Wednesday 25 April
Bookings: 1300 306 776 / www.mca-tix.com | Schools bookings 9519 3403