Shaun Parker & Veronica Neave. Photos Courtesy The Esplanade Co. Ltd
They met, they fell in love, they got married, and then it went wrong. It is a universal tale that has been documented and explored in many art forms and more often than not, for an audience, it makes for a harrowing night at the theatre. In Blue Love, originally directed by Shaun Parker and Jo Stone, Glenn and Rhonda Flune, played by Parker and Veronica Neave, invite the audience into their Love Arena. It is here in the telling of their story that this production is so unique. It is full of fun and surprises, wit and colour, and most intriguing of all it shows that the difference between the absurd and the poignant can be just a movement away.
This particular production is presented by Malthouse Theatre and as a pastiche of theatre, film, dance and song it fits well within the vision of the company in recent years since being under the artistic direction of Michel Kantor. Its form may be unfamiliar to some audiences but its proven popularity is due largely to its accessibility. Before the lights have even gone down, Glenn and Rhonda are mingling and laughing with the audience, taking photos as they sit in their laps and handing out unopened cans of beer. It is a fair indication of the hour to follow.
Blue Love both celebrates and mocks popular culture and with the telling of the ups and downs of love and romance within this context, clichés are inevitable. Rather than attempting to avoid them, Parker has used these to great effect. In most instances the references are far from subtle and it is here that the audience is treated to some hilarious one-liners. An entire argument between Glenn and Rhonda is constructed from famous lines of love songs. It is amusing but as in many instances in this production,when it is least expected, the clichés become the meaningful.
Within the walls of their living room, Glenn with his slicked back hair and in his tight brown suit and Rhonda in her go-go boots and flower in her hair, are living in the 70’s. Their living room is an eclectic mix of minimalism and kitsch and like the play itself, of popular culture throughout the ages. Against the stark white floor are just a few items of furniture but with texture and colour a definite cosiness and cheeriness is created. A white rectangular box at the back of the room, according to its label, is not a box at all but in fact a Chaise Lounge and several large pink paper roses stand on either side of the room, a grandiose symbol of love. Despite having two children, it is the couple’s German Shepherd who gets prime position on the wall and who,for good measure, sits mounted in the corner of the room.
To aid in their story telling Rhonda and Glenn show three short films, each a re-enactment and description of how they met, how they fell in love and of how it fell apart. Abstract in style, the films are works of art themselves. They are the most forgettable, if at times confusing, aspect of this production but as parodies they reveal the absurdity that so often comes through in society’s preoccupation with representing life in art. With no dialogue, the films rely greatly on the seemingly random movements of the performers within them and it is when this movement is transferred to Glenn and Rhonda in their living room that true emotions of love, romance and heartache are conveyed.
Parker and Neave’s slap happy approach to their acrobatics and dance is an illusion with many of the movements requiring a great deal of strength, fitness and timing. Neave, as Rhonda, is quite captivating and in her movements she exudes an interesting mix of determinedness and beauty. Parker shows great diversity as he moves between dance and song and while he has the greatest amount of physical work, at no point does he seem to tire.
In one scene Rhonda and Glenn’s push-ups become a metaphor for an act of betrayal until Glenn suddenly flings himself across the other side of the room from Rhonda. Glenn continues to roll, like a log, from one side of the room to the other. He increases his speed and intensity but goes nowhere. It is a demonstration of great technique but is telling of the emotional gap that has formed between the couple. What was initially an amusing act becomes somewhat uncomfortable to watch as it changes form, into an act of tireless self-punishment.
Blue Love shows that the subject of love and romance will continue to be depicted in all forms of art but regardless of how it is decorated or disguised, the emotions and meaning that accompany it are much the same. As the song goes, and as Glenn and Rhonda know too well, Love is a Battlefield. Rather than becoming bogged down in its intricacies, Glenn and Rhonda’s contention seems simple; a little bit of humour and a more light-hearted approach can do wonders in terms of understanding and surviving. When Glenn and Rhonda have finished telling their story they thank their audience for listening. They are still squabbling but in a series of swift movements they leave their audience via the white door, the door that is labelled as the Entrance to the Bedroom.
Malthouse Theatre presents
Venue: Beckett Theatre
Dates: June 18 – 28