Left - Olivia Hogan & Brett Whittingham. Cover - Kate Gregory
The days are getting shorter, the nights colder, and the air has that refreshing crispness about it that accompanies the onset of winter. Melbourne's punters, for the first time in months, are rugging up to go out to the theatre. The obligatory glass of intermission red thaws the icier among us, and for those who don't drink, there's always an old oil burner or fan heater, hauled out from underneath last year's sets and hastily fired up in the foyer. It's a wonderful time to live in Melbourne, and to get out into its theatres.
It's also the perfect time of the year for a
production of Jane Bodie's fourplay, which, like chestnuts,
mushrooms, and other autumnal produce, is currently in season and well worth
seeking out. Not only is the play set in autumn but, charting the dissolution
of a relationship over time, finds in the season perfect metaphor for its own
narrative and emotional development; the piles of leaves that litter the stage,
and which overtake it in the play's final moments, are a potent, elegiatic reminder
of the decay at the heart of the play's central relationship, not to mention at
the heart of so many relationships, fictional or otherwise.
Alice (Olivia Hogan), a former actor-turned-care worker, and Tom (Brett Whittingham), who's still acting despite himself, are in a convenient but complacent relationship, not so much in love as in limbo. For the most part, they get along fine - she helps him with his lines, he dutifully listens to her stories about work - though she sometimes sleeps on the couch and he has to admit that they've had less in common since she stopped acting and took up care work. When Tom's unashamedly sassy co-star, Natasha (Kate Gregory), starts flirting with him during their one-on-one rehearsals, he finds himself, not only tempted, but willing to give in to temptation; when Alice starts spending more and more time with her kooky co-worker Jack (Dan Walls), she can't help but find him a little endearing, if admittedly also a fraction frightening. Tom and Alice's relationship with each other, meanwhile, steadily erodes from the inside out, the leaves beginning to pile up around them, the air between them increasingly thin. When Tom, trying in vain to recreate the past, brings home a bottle of the wine they used to drink together, he remarks that it's been a long time since they've had it and is then disappointed when its not as good as they remember. The implication isn't lost on either of them: the relationship, like the bottle, is corked.
Director David Ryding, working with a bang-up cast, brings the play's quiet charms to the stage with good humour, visual intelligence and subtlety. His style is modest, never overstating its case or impressing itself too forcefully on the audience, but nevertheless carefully considered and precise; his gradual emptying out the space, for example, which sees the characters' warmly lit and lived-in bedroom, littered with pillows and clothes and furniture, become a cold and impersonal void, emptied of things and people, is highly schematic and calculated, but feels unforced and is almost imperceptible. The performances are routinely excellent; Oliva Hogan, whose everyday mannerisms and carefully observed gestures are often delivered with subtle but revealing sadness, does particularly well.
However, it's Bodie's writing that truly shines
here, sparkling humbly, as it does, with great warmth and humanity. Though the
ending feels a trifle forced - it echoes the first scene of the play in a way
that, dramatically and emotionally, doesn't quite make sense - for the most
part it doesn't put a foot wrong. On the contrary, combined with fine direction
and excellent performances, it makes for one of the best productions of the
year thus far - not to mention of the season, which, for this cold-blooded
reviewer at least, it makes feel a little warmer.
The Act-O-Matic 3000 Presents
by Jane Bodie
Directed by David Ryding
Venue: Cromwell Road Theatre | 27a Cromwell Road, South Yarra
Week One: Wed 16 (Preview), Thurs 17, Fri 18, Sat 19 May
Week Two: Tues 22, Wed 23, Thurs 24, Fri 25, Sat 26 May
Matinee performance - Saturday 26 May @ 2pm
Tickets: $10 Preview | $15 Concession (pension, f/t student, MEAA, Groups 12+), $20 Full
Tix at the door