Nicki Bloom is new to the art of playwriting; not that you’d notice. Indeed, Tender is her undeniably tender debut; pregnant with a sympathy for people and character; deeply humane qualities which will stand her in good stead as both a person and playwright.
Tender won the 2006 Adrian Stephen Consett Memorial Prize, 2007 Inscription Chairman's Award for Best Play & was shortlisted for the 2006 Max Afford Award.
Who am I to argue?
Yet Tender, for mine, suffers, somewhat (let’s dispense with the quibbles, so as to acclaim the eponymous heart of the play), from that affliction not uncommon to independent theatre: a seeming hankering to employ devices and gimmicks; some traditional, some merely tedious.
Apart from rather intrusive, somewhat amateurish ‘live’ music (more a soundscape), the particular cadence in dialogue, at first fresh and engaging, becomes tired and tiring. And, when cocked-up, even slightly, as in one scene, it becomes downright aggravating. That said, it does, indeed, lend a rhythm and momentum which, is at the very least interesting.
Tender also employs the time-honoured technique of flashback, which, one might’ve thought, went out with ‘the golden years’ of Hollywood.
And, finally, it draws a circle, from the first line to the last: an oh-so-neat and anally pleasing (so to speak) literary ‘trick’, as against treat, much in favour and bordering on detestably predictable in practice.
All that aside, Tender is an emotional revelation, wherein the narrative is, ultimately, incidental to its thorough and gentle expositions of the nature, and character, of love, loss, grief, memory, resilience & relationships (husband-wife; mother-daughter; father-son; mother-son; mother-daughter-in-law; mother-grandchild).
Performances are, on the whole, outstanding, across the board: from the veteran finesse of Heather Mitchell as ‘the mother’ & cold, domineering matriarch, Yvonne, to Kate Box (with her sensuous and magnificent diction) in the central role, as Sarah; Pip Miller features, as Patrick, father to Michael, played by Darren Weller.
Up-and-coming (apace) Boiler Room director, Geordie Brookman (Disco Pigs, 4.48 Psychosis, The Return, Marathon) has clearly exceeded himself, given the above.
For mine, the sound design (despite the accomplishments & appeal of Fergus Brown and Holly Austin in their own rights, outside the confines of this tiny realm) proved as distracting as it did enhancing; however, suitably unobtrusive were Pip Runciman and Matt Cox’s design and lighting contributions. Indeed, Runciman’s casement windows evoked all the benign and, simultaneously, malignant preganancy of suburbia in a single, simple, elegant element.
As is, probably, often the case, I know my review might well be widely-regarded as harsh and uncompromising, rather than generous, but I stand by it, absolutely. Awarded and gifted she may be, but Ms Bloom’s real opus is yet to come.
This play represents more appetite-whetting promise, than outright accomplishment, despite its many fine qualities, including, at times, lyrical lines and penetrating, sensitive insights into the human condition and our very frailty.
I look eagerly & anxiously forward to NB’s further & future outpourings: I estimate her true genius hasn’t quite emerged, but soon will.
nowyesnow in association with B-Sharp present
by Nicki Bloom
Venue: Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre
Dates: May 16 - June 3
Times: Tuesday 7pm, Wednesday - Saturday 8.15pm, Sunday 5.15pm
Bookings: 9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au