Hilda | Hot Seat Theatre‘Hilda’, presented by Steve Bonanno, Susie Lindeman and Jonathan Wald at the Tap Gallery was the first play from French novelist and dramatist Marie Ndiaye. The translation here provided by Susie Lindeman who plays the lead role of the seductress, Lemarchand.

The work is a study in seduction without being seductive. In many ways the build is reminiscent of Tennessee Williams’ ‘Streetcar’ but it fails to ignite.

In assessments of other works by the author it is suggested there may be a parallel to the Medea myth. This play seems to be no exception. Medea is a somewhat ambiguous figure in the Greek panoply of mythical beings, possibly charlatan, possibly bait. She was instrumental in enabling Jason to capture the Golden Fleece. The parallel here is the offer of money with the resulting indebtedness. Whether such apparent preoccupation is in part an outworking of the emotional duality experienced by a child seeing herself abandoned by her father is a matter of conjecture.

The play follows a basic dramatic construct with two implanted causal events obstructing the protagonist in achieving her desired goal. The drama is contained in the frustrated desire of Mrs Lemarchand, played by Lindeman, for her would be lover, Franck. She dominates the production as she contrives firstly to isolate Franck’s wife, Hilda (only ever an off stage presence) from her husband, then punishes him for spurning her. When Franck turns to Hilda’s cousin, played by Emily Beale, the desire is to destroy what cannot be possessed.

Although the publicity suggests its relevance to Australia is as to ‘a country struggling with workplace relations, legal and illegal migration, and the growing gap between rich and poor’ it seems that the play while using the ‘employment’ of Hilda as a control exercise it has little to do with the terms of such engagement. It might as well be said to be a metaphor for the Bush family’s obsession with and destruction of Saddam Hussein.

It seems to be more about the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde reversal syndrome. Its primary concern is in the examination of the duality of human desire as affected through its inherited bi-polar environment.

Herein lies the main problem with the production. While Lindeman certainly plays the seductress with languid movement and tortured silken cadences her obverse aspect lacked the edge of cruelty. There was no apparent contra indication to arrest the audience and take the breath away. The anger born of rejection had more the tones of a petulant child than the bite of a spurned vixen. Even in the final segments where there is a physical exchange the punches are pulled and the blows dent only the air.

The space at the Tap has its limitations most obviously in the fact of the breadth of its presentation to the audience. As they are never more that four rows from the action the viewing angle can become unmanageably wide. It is an aspect of the space that was put to good use in the comedy piece, ‘Clouds’, seen earlier this year, with a staged night tennis match. The effect however breaks the sustained build of a dramatic piece.

For most of the play the limitation was put to excellent use in the very beautiful set design of Jewell Johnson which exquisitely captured at either ends of the lateral space two worlds set poles apart. While for most of the play the central door demarcated the hemispheres regrettably at the point of the dramatic confrontation Lindeman crosses the equator and occupies the entire breadth of the stage. The audience is required to view the ensuing struggle as from the umpire’s stand.

As a piece it tends to lag in a lopsided story telling which lacks the brilliance to sustain enthralment. It can only be guessed at as to what the play sounds like in its native tongue. By all accounts in the French it might be more impassioned, more gut wrenching, Baudelaire always sounds contrived in English. This may account for this interpretation seeming to be rather overworked.

The part of Franck, played by Jake Blundell, is a ‘patient’ part. As such it is a demanding role requiring complete absorption during Lindeman’s lengthy monologues while conveying to the audience the silent inner turmoil of the character. There were certainly moments in that silence that we saw his pain but the despair at the end of the play appeared more vacant than tortured.

The moral of the piece, with respect to the author of the notes, does not appear to relate to work place reform of immigration but rather to that far more visceral human response that springs from love unrequited. It is no doubt what James had in mind in his cautionary sentiment ‘You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.’

A play, however, cannot stand on its moral alone for drama is as much about the coating as the pill. In order to be convinced of the passion we must be allowed to witness the pain.

Hot Seat Theatre
by Marie Ndiaye

Venue: TAP Gallery Theatre 278 Palmer St. Darlinghurst
Dates: Preview Sept. 5th, Season Sept. 6th – 20th
Times: Tues - Sat at 8pm, Sun at 5pm
Tickets: $25/20; Tuesdays pay-what-you-can
Bookings: 1 300 306 776 www.mca-tix.com

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