It shouldn’t come as any surprise to find that someone who has taken forty years to come home has had some more pressing reason for staying away than not having found the time. ‘The Seed’, playing at B Sharp, Belvoir presents such a scenario.
The story of the prodigal’s return is of biblical origin but, in the hands of this accomplished writer, Kate Mulvany, it presents a very controlled and confronting dramatic plot. Its presentation and development in the hands of director, Iain Sinclair, make for a particularly entertaining and gripping piece of theatre. The intimate space of Downstairs Belvoir gives the play a claustrophobic intimacy that serves it well and Sinclair’s inventive use of every corner of the space, accented with well orchestrated lighting by Matt Cox, unfolds a cat and mouse pursuit between the players.
Mulvaney, in her notes, protests that the ‘The Seed’ is not about victims, not about blame. While it may not be about the victims of war it is certainly about victims, how they are duped and set up and how they are caught. The set design, by Micka Agosta, is one of modest domestic comfort juxtaposed with cartons ill disguised under lace all set against a strangely sylvan backdrop that invokes a story within a story. Mulvaney plays daughter and granddaughter, Kate, presenting a commentary through a past remembered that vividly conjures an imagery of entrapment and secret bonds of pain.
Mulvaney undoubtedly knows how to handle language however it is her use of it in creating divides rather than bridging them that demonstrates a mastery. There is woven into the dialogue a recurrent Irish idiosyncrasy. In the hands or on the lips of Martin Vaughan as the patriarch, Brian, it teeters deliciously between playful jest and dangerous threat. By all accounts this is a biographical piece and as such presents certain constraints in both the telling and the acting. Gregory Peck was fond of telling the story of Harper Lee tearfully watching his performance on the set of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Peck assumed the tears were prompted by his sympathetic portrayal of her father, Atticus until she confessed that it was his paunch that triggered her reflective emotion. Autobiographical works often set off unexpected triggers for their authors. The fact that the author in this case chose to play a character that is at best ‘only just one remove (sic) from Kate’s actual life’ probably compounds issues that work against the dramatic pulse. The result is that the ‘mask’ of the playwright/actress seemed at times too fixed and suggested a level of cognition in the character that belied the text.
Whether the events are indeed autobiographical or simply inspired of a life in the living is not of concern. ‘The Seed’ springs from a past remembered that Pinter described as a foreign country. The playwright needs therefore to manage its sequence and its staging. The writing is tight and skilful with only the barest deferment to polemics. It leaves the work to engage the audience in a reluctant face down with mythology, self-deception and lies. Only once does Mulvaney appear to have given way to a personal catharsis. As a result the theme, so painstakingly explored, momentarily slips and the outburst of pain in her deprived maternity, tragic though it is, appeared gratuitous in the context.
Danny Adcock, in the role of the prodigal returned, gave an outstanding portrayal of one reluctant to wake the spirits of the past and shoulder a burden that becomes weightier as the play progresses. When he finally strips away the fiction and forces us to witness the gremlins of his past it’s a frightening moment of mayhem. A recurrent topic for art in all its aspects in this country is searching out the Australian ‘voice’. Often in the past people have felt the need to leave home to find an unconvincing echo of it abroad.
Here Mulvaney successfully invites us home to Ireland to witness an uncanny reflection of an aspect of our persona. It’s not the whole picture; it makes no claim to be. It is however a beautifully crafted tile that will sit handsomely in the mosaic that is Australian which, perforce, will ever be a work in progress.
Mimmam Productions in association with B Sharp presents
by Kate Mulvany
Belvoir St, Downstairs Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Saturday July 21 – Sunday August 12
Tues 7pm, Wed-Sat 8.15pm, Sun 5.15pm
$29/$23 (Preview $20, Cheap Tues Pay-what-you-can min $10)
9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au