L-R Remy Hii, Carole Skinner, Natasha Wanganeen
Queensland Theatre Company have attempted something different – finally!
While not particularly hard-hitting, QTC’s latest production, The Estimator, at least displays some fresh original work developed by a Queensland playwright. This semi-absurd, quintessentially Australian piece is multicultural, multilateral and multifarious – resulting in a performance that has a little bit of everything, but not a great deal of that special something. It is contemporary, and explores a current issue – the fad of ‘self-help’ – but what it dares to do in theory, it fails to do in reality. The play may explore the idea of changing one’s status quo through will and choice, but there is no theatrical intervention happening here.
Written by David Brown and directed by Jon Halpin, The Estimator is set in the living room of Yonni (Carole Skinner) and her granddaughter Sharday’s (Natasha Wangeenan) decrepit old house. Martin (Remy Hii) is an Estimator for Far and Wide Removalists, and has arrived early at the house to perform an estimation on the cost of moving their home and contents. Neither Yonni nor Sharday (who is obsessed with self-help quizzes in magazines) requested the Estimator, but happily offer Martin numerous cups of tea. Martin tries to assist Yonni to stand after she passes out, but instead she lands on him on the floor, and the two become stuck. Gradually Martin becomes Yonni and Sharday’s plaything, involved in their incessant delusional conversations and role-plays. Enter Yonni’s daughter Karen, who has a secret that she continually tries to tell Martin, in her confusing and muddled way, and the play basically becomes about a journey to truth – however ‘hard to talk about’. Continually perplexing and often extreme, the plot is certainly creative.
While Brown created a highly in-depth story, he seemed to overstep the boundaries of reality and the writing itself became confused with the imaginary worlds created by Yonni and Sharday. It was so fantastical, it could no longer be relatable as ‘real’. These multiple realities resulted in confusing the message and made me constantly question Why? Why were the two characters of Yonni and Sharday so sheltered from the real world and engrossed by their fake world? And why didn’t Martin just get up and leave? He clearly was uncomfortable being there from the start, and his prolonged stay just didn’t make sense. It appeared that the only reason he stayed through the first act was because Yonni was sitting on Martin’s leg, which was so overacted that it did not read as a convincing reason for that character to stay. Yonni and Sharday’s delusions were frighteningly out-there, and Karen’s ‘little steps’ were both more methodical and more confusing than any other element of the play. Perhaps this disjointed world was the intention of the playwright, but it seemed like there were so many things involved that when they were all put together, the play gave off a weird vibe, like there was too many ideas trying to happen at once.
If I wasn’t sitting there confused as to the character’s motives, I was either bored or cringing. The play held no relevance to me. It was about a group of bogans who lived in a hovel and were too frightened of their real lives so they created fake ones for themselves. There was a running gag or motif line between Sharday and her grandmother, that basically went
Yonni: … and you know what that means?
Sharday: I know what that means!
Yonni: We all know what that means!Together: It means… (and some saying like ‘its hard to talk about’ would ensue).
If this wasn’t funny the first time, it completely made me cringe every single time I heard it afterwards. It was painful. It added well to the characters’ dreary, repetitive lives but it had the negative effect of making me wish it would never happen again.
There were strong performances by the actors, but the story they worked within limited the overall impact that the actors could have. Carole Skinner as Yonni was delightfully multi-faceted, with surprising hints of a depth to her character that was not seen in the others. Natasha Wangeenan, a grown woman with plenty of acting experience, managed to subdue her worldly ways into a truly innocent young girl. However these characters were lost in the story, and unfortunately did not stand out.
The Estimator's performance was well crafted. It
seemed on surface level that everything fit together but upon
questioning the choices that were made in the production, I could not
find enjoyment. It is worth seeing for the simple fact that QTC have tried to be original. However you may be disappointed as I was with the confusing repetitive nature of both this production and the season.
Queensland Theatre Company presents
By David Brown
Bille Brown Studio
4 June - 7 July 2007
Tue @ 6.30pm, Wed to Sat @ 7.30pm; Matinees Wed @ 1.00pm & Sat @ 2.00pm
$26 - $55