Written and directed by Lucien Savron, from his own film script, Still Holding is set in the 1980s and based around the real life Pettingill family. Kath Pettingill, notorious as ‘the Matriarch’, is perhaps the most publicly well known crime-family mother Australia has produced, so far. According to Savron, it is his intention to drawn on the disparate genres of the western, the crime thriller and Shakespeare, blending fact with fiction in order to portray a day in the life of a family.
Still Holding is a very aspirational production, utilising a terrific set design from Ric Haddon and evocative lighting design from Karla Engdahl. The set design captures an exhilarating sensation of family life resembling the feeling of being trapped in a cave. In which nothing nurtures and any warmth is short lived and erratic. The production also utilizes back projection to good effect.
Unfortunately this production needs a sharp edit. Adapting a film script into a theatre script requires, as the word implies, some adaptation. The lengthy party scenes for example, are easy to imagine working on film, but in the theatre they didn’t. The acting style(s) on display here also let down the play’s potential and the direction did not help. The apparent ‘bigness’ of these larger than life characters, from which I believe the play’s comedy derives, is only competently portrayed by a couple of the actors, with the rest doing something else altogether. Shockingly, it was not even always obvious to me when one performer came on as a different character, as both were performed in exactly the same manner, I had to check the program. Still Holding needs much stronger direction to achieve its ambitions.
Contrarily, the production’s major asset is the marvelous John-Paul Hussey as number one son Danny. His portrayal of a drug affected, power intoxicated, sociopathic dealer and family man neatly straddles the requirement to be both comedic and menacing. I loved the dead behind the eyes look and the macho posturing. He prowled the stage like he owned it and no one better forget it!
Overall, Still Holding has the potential to be an exciting piece of theatre, but unfortunately its deficits generally threaten to overwhelm its aspirations. There is consequently a disjointed quality to the entire production, where, like in the play’s plot, the good qualities threaten the bad and the bad threatens the good. Who wins? You decide. It depends, I believe, on which qualities you admire more.
La Mama presents
Written and directed by Lucien Savron
Venue: La Mama at the Carlton Courthouse, 349 Drummond Street, Carlton
Dates: Wed August 15 - Sat August 19
Times: Tues, Wed and Sun @ 6.30pm, Thurs to Sat @ 8pm
Bookings: 9347 6142