The Real Thring | Hoy PolloyMichael F Cahill as Frank Thring. Photos - Fred Kroh

Frank Thring is a celebrity icon of a lost era, belonging to a time when movie stars were shimmering beacons of class and decadence and mass media figures were famous for more than just being evicted from a televised sharehouse.

Melbourne theatre company Hoy Polloy’s new production The Real Thring (written by Barry Dickens, directed by Wayne Peam and starring Michael F. Cahill) is a homage to and celebration of a man who, throughout his life played many roles, all of them with gusto. Frank Thring was a 1950’s Hollywood movie star, conquered London’s West End, returned home to become an active and influential member of the Melbourne arts scene, was a regular fixture of Australian television as well as being a larger than life character who was everywhere and knew everyone. Thring was a flamboyant homosexual, drank like a fish and delighted in brandishing the lethal weapon of his acerbic tongue without discretion. Towards the end of his life he was a regular feature at the 3RRR radio studios, adopting them as a kind of second home. The Real Thring is presented in association with the radio station and staged at their East Brunswick warehouse.

Writer Barry Dickens has produced a script that is a genuine attempt at an affectionate tribute to a man who was revered, respected and loved by so many. Unfortunately the verbosity of the text somewhat failed to reveal the depth of Thring’s character. Written almost entirely in heightened prose, it almost appeared as if the depicted Thring was an adults only Doctor Seuss character, delivering at times the most precarious rhymes (no pun intended).

The piece professed to depict the actor at the end of his life, reliving and relating past triumphs and tales of glories gone by. But the script often became mired, circling around the same points without furthering the narrative; for example Thring’s relationship with his parents and in particular his father. As a result, the text did little to reveal the complexities of a man who, at the point of his death, was desperately lonely and dying mainly as a direct result of his own self-destructive excess.

Which is not to say that we didn’t receive glimpses that revealed a deeper vulnerability to the character. An anecdote relating the disappointment of being called upon to buoy the celebrity factor of a premiere, instead of being offered a part in the play itself, revealed a poignant insight to a man who was realizing his own imminent demise. At this point the affected prose style was abandoned in favour of a more low key delivery, allowing us a brief chance to connect and empathize with the character.

An edit and a more varied style of the writing would benefit the production and sharpen the impact of the text, allowing more space in the delivery. At times it appeared as if actor Michael F. Cahill was simply trying to remember his multitude of lines, merely reciting the words and somewhat lacking connection and inhabitation of the dialogue and therefore the character.

Cahill does an admirable job of portraying Thring, but for such a famously unique and flamboyant figure anything but the man himself must necessarily pale in comparison. Thring was portrayed with artifice and bravado and droll laconic-ness, which the real Thring most likely possessed in spades. But without any depth of contrast it makes for a one-dimensional character.

Thring was by all accounts was a vital, respected and adored fixture of Australia’s performance landscape. His wit and humor reverberate through the Melbourne arts community to this day, and The Real Thring exists as proof of this.

But I can’t but wonder what Thring himself might have to say about this production.

Hoy Polloy and Triple R present the world premiere of
The Real Thring
by Barry Dickins

Venue: Triple R Performance Space | 221 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East (Tram route 96 – stop 27)
Dates: 12 – 27 September 2008
Times: Tuesday to Saturday 8.15pm, Sundays 5.00pm
Tickets: $30 Adult, $20 Concession / Groups 10+, $18 Tuesdays
Triple R subscribers receive a 10% discount for Wednesday – Sunday performances
Bookings: 03 9016 3873 |

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