The tiny space at Belvoir’s Downstairs Theatre has been transformed yet again. A dim-lit room complete with a glowing window, framed by black crepe curtains; a chair, a lamp and a woman with a book. This time, the Downstairs Theatre takes us somewhere quite “other” via a heavily outdated travel guide: sections of which are read aloud and reflected upon by the meandering linguistic gymnastics of Homebody (Gillian Jones).
In an intense and intimate monologue, the life of Homebody is slowly unravelled. A life in which she admits she is unable to understand the details of her husband’s job, and unable to fathom the great need of her daughter: for whom life seems to keep getting worse. This disconnectedness from her home life: of domestic stagnancy and unfulfilling relationships, propels her into a world of books words and idea which then leads into an acute fascination with Kabul. This monologue, aware of and at times unashamedly addressing the audience is delivered with great finesse, artistry and grace by Gillian Jones. A truly amazing performance in which her tangential journeys, historical reflections, self-conscious admissions and private confessions are spell-binding. Jones is magnetic and honest and her performance as Homebody translucently glides into a transparent performance, where we can no longer predict nor hear the sentence ahead: completely stunning.
Then change. Of set, of light of place, of characters and we are thrust into Kabul, Afghanistan. Dry heat, sand, religious piety, burqas, sexual segregation: a different world. We then follow Priscilla Ceiling (Lotte St Clair) and Milton Ceiling (Tony Llewellyn-Jones) as they attempt to come to terms with their missing mother/wife. According to Doctor Qari Shah (George Kanaan) she has been killed, but without a sign of a body, Priscilla is doubtful and goes in search of her with the aid of Khwaja Aziz Mondanabosh (Nicholas Papademetriou) a poet and guide, who leads her through Kabul dispensing history and an insight into Afghani culture. Milton stays with Quango Twistelton (Simon Bossell) who is the British Aid Worker who has stayed despite the harsh conditions of Kabul. Both Milton and Priscilla deal with the loss in their own ways: as they sway between denial and acceptance of their situation with their interactions with Mullah Aftar Ali Durranni (Keith Agius), Border Guard (Craig Mennaud), Zai Garshi (James Evans) who provide a different perspective on the world. Impressively, this ensemble cast is clearly dedicated to telling this story: which is not an easy story to tell. St Clair’s Priscilla is fierce whilst fragile: it is a difficult role but handled with great sensitivity and strength. Odile le Clezio’s Mahala is intelligent, articulate and passionate and at times heartbreakingly fierce… and gives a voice to the women of Afghanistan without being overly sentimental nor patronizing: her frustration and fear is intense and dynamic in what sometimes is a slow stylistic poem.
Homebody/Kabul is contemporary epic theatre. Large themes, big ideas, stretch from our domestic home life to the vast unknown of the Afghanistan desert. The creative team of Rosie Chase (sound design), Grant Fraser (lighting design), Tom Bannerman (set design) and Amanda McNamara (costume) should be acknowledged for creating a vast world within a limited space. Christopher Hurrell should be commended for his brave choice of script and an amazing cast of quality actors, who have done an amazing job to learn how to perform in a language different to their own and maintain a huge amount of energy over the 3 hour production. It’s a long play. Really long: so long there was an interval and then an inexplicable “STAND and STRETCH” moment in the middle of the second act: perhaps in recognition of the restlessness of sitting through a theatrical epic such as this.
Most of all I find it surprising that this show was not programmed for the Company B’s season Upstairs: especially considering the impressive cast and the high profile writer such as Tony Kushner (Angels in America et al).
Sam Hawker, Tangent Productions and B Sharp present
by Tony Kushner
Venue: Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 11 September – 5 October
Plays: Tues 7pm, Wed-Sat 8.15pm, Sun 5.15pm
Tickets: $29/$23 (Preview $20, Cheap Tues Pay-what-you-can min $10)
Bookings: 9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au