Once upon a time there were two people called John Leary and Patrick Brammall. Patrick Brammall and John Leary won an award. This award is called the Philip Parsons Award and it is awarded to “a young playwright under the age of 35, whose work demonstrates an original and compelling theatrical voice.” Both are performers. Not surprisingly Leary and Brammall break the mould… and you get two writers for the price of one!
Both actors have performance histories which are impressive on paper and even more impressive when you have the honour of seeing them perform. I first saw Leary perform in Marriage of Figaro seven years ago at the Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House and I recently witnessed him perform in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Taming of the Shrew. Patrick Brammall has delighted me in Plays: by himself (Old Fitzroy Hotel) and Blue Eyes and Heels (Darlinghurst Theatre). Both are compelling actors in their own right and make interesting choices on their respective projects. They wrote a play together, which was suggested at the B Sharp Launch earlier this year as “perhaps not yet written”.
I assure you, they have written it. I think they have…. No. They have. They have written it. I think… Maybe. Yes.
This sleight of hand is quite charming. Two actors, performing in a play they have written, attempting to show that they haven’t written it: that nothing is set in stone… yet, we know it is as we watch the self aware and the self-referential aspects of theatre explode in confetti and confessions and confidences. It is even more charming that the play begins with a series of “Doctor Doctor” jokes we expect and have heard before: as a rite of passage? Once we get these “bits” out of the way we can get to the guts of the story. Literally.
Leary in a pink nurse’s uniform. Brammall in a silver, lycra unitard. Jokes, songs about bacteria, facts about digestion and stories about bizarre sexual practices… all distractions from the heart, or should I say stomach or perhaps the guts of the piece?
The label and the challenge of a “fresh young voice in the theatre” as per the mandate of the award they have won, carries with it the burden and the weight of a tradition as old and practiced as bodily functions themselves: storytelling. The expectation of an audience… the freedom of having a space willing to take your newest work and a commission to enable the writing of a new work directly affects that which is created on stage. One wonders if this is playwriting? Is it extended sketch comedy? Is it an homage to Pirandello: Two actors in search of a play? Does this piece extend beyond these performers, and does that matter?
A declamatory style of presentation… openly theatrical references… strange references to Leary’s real pet dog Lola eating the doctor’s homework… super cheesy lounge music for scene/costume changes… struggles with a scalpel… the promise of the “new theatrical art form”… the fear of the tired worn out tricks… the formula of the well written story as exemplified by Star Wars synthesised in the age old politics of “who’s show is it anyway?”
Leary and Brammall are at their “brightest” and “most talented” when they are unexpectedly serious. When the gags stop and for a moment they reveal something that is real (without resorting to maiming each other)… and that is the connection between each other. The search for connection to each other, to an audience... of feeling significant in the greater landscape of creation and of the “magic of theatre”.
Writing a play is hard. Being an actor seems harder: competing with yourself, your ego, your previous successes and failures, your friends, those who help, those who steal the funding and the ideas… and ending up angry and over inflated. Plenty of industry jokes soothe this open wound.
Brammall and Leary are supported by simple and coherent direction from debut director (yet seasoned actor) Matt Whittet; fluid and sometimes cute lighting by Matt Cox, cheesy anthems by Steve Francis, and suitable RSL inspired design by Bob Cousins.
Vital Organs is a delightful and rollicking show with plenty to offer: information about the pancreas never goes astray and at the guts and the heart is a very real experience.
Easily Distracted, in association with B Sharp, presents the 2006 Philip Parsons Young Playwright’s Award Winners’ commission
by Patrick Brammall and John Leary
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Preview: Wednesday 28 November
Season: Thursday 29 November – Saturday 22 December
Times: Tues 7pm, Wed-Sat 8.15pm, Sun 5.15pm
Bookings: 02 9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au