Paul Lum and Patrick Moffatt. Photos - Anna Tregloan
How often have we travelled to a destination, bursting with anticipation and the expectation that once we arrive, an amazing transformation will occur. By the purely physical act of displacement, we will suddenly be happy, relaxed and open, stress-free and ready to embrace a new lease on life. How many holiday makers are then bitterly disappointed when upon arrival they discover one tiny overlooked detail: though their location is different, they have still taken themselves with them. All the internal neuroses, voices of dissatisfaction and undercurrents of self-criticism suddenly have more space to roam and let their presence be felt. You may be on holiday - but you are still there.
Such is the reality of Ranters Theatre's production Holiday, on at the Malthouse. Directed by Adriano Cortese and written by Raimondo Cortese, Holiday occurs in an uneasy space, where the expectation for respite and relaxation is at odds with a somewhat tense reality.
Two characters (performers Paul Lum and Patrick Moffatt) inhabit the piece. The relationship between the men is unclear: do they know each other? Or have they been thrust together simply by proximity and circumstance? They embark on a seemingly pointless conversation - small talk between strangers perhaps, trying to fill the air with noise so that their own internal monologues don't take over. Initially they pace and stretch cagily like animals in a zoo, exploring the boundaries of their leisure space. It appears as if they are giving the impression of relaxation, conforming to the idea that that's what they're meant to be... after all, they are on holiday.
A holiday is often a place where we wait, reassess our goals and give ourselves time to think about what we wish and desire. The performers half-heartedly discuss future endeavors: Moffatt is trying to rid his life of extraneous material possessions and Lum is on the hunt for the perfect mug. The dialogue meanders and changes tact without warning. Dissertations on religion and society sit beside questions about hair waxing and observations about the length of fingers, with equal emphasis on both subjects. There was very little variation in the half interested politeness with which each performer received information from the other. Perhaps listening to a newly acquired travel companion's inane patter is better than being lonely a long way from home. But then again, maybe not.
Anecdotes, theories and questions surface with increasing rapidity from their undefined lives as the characters reveal more to each other. The concerns of day-to-day existence still accompany the men, even in this foreign place. History and biography bubble just under the surface. The past encroaches slowly on their current reality, as the two men try to exist as much in the moment as they can. The bare, neither-here-nor-there space (designed by Anna Tregloan) contains sparse symbols of relaxation: a chaise lounge, a paddling pool, some stools. Punctuating the dialogue, the performers sing baroque love songs a cappella, adding a dimension of sadness that underpins these two figures, mired as they are in an existential no-mans-land. Comparisons between these characters and Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon are easily made, as nothing seems to happen - but only once this time.
One of Ranter's company aims in devising Holiday was to portray a piece where the dialogue and action was occurring spontaneously, as if it had never happened before. Perhaps this is an element that needs to settle over the season, as any kind of 'acting' interferes with the finely held, deadpan naturalism of the production. Holiday is a work that relies on the nonchalant but absolute control of the performers and mastery of the seemingly meandering dialogue. Therefore the long pauses and contemplative silence that is a large part of the initial stages of the piece must be as theatrically full as the sections with dialogue. On the night I attended it sometimes appeared as though the actors were just waiting to say the next bit of text and the silence sat somewhat uncomfortably on stage.
Holiday is an intriguing and at times frustrating theatrical experience. It requires of the audience an adjusting of pace, a gearing down to a slower speed: a little like one adjusts to the pace of a holiday. And just like a holiday, nothing much might happen, but the enduring memories of it become tinted gold over time.
Malthouse Theatre presents Ranter's Theatre
by Raimondo Cortese
Venue: Tower Theatre | CUB Malthouse
Dates: July 16 - August 2