Wolfe Bowart in Letter's End
In Letter’s End, Wolfe Bowart is the Keeper, a melancholy clown in the tradition of Buster Keaton. The Keeper lives alone in a strange room, where there’s a chute through which letters and parcels are received from time to time. As each letter or parcel arrives the Keeper dutifully carries it to his stove and burns it. He does this cheerfully enough but perhaps begins to feel he’s engaged in a rather futile occupation: so, on a whim, he opens one of the parcels and examines its contents. Now memories of a life outside the Keeper's lonely room begin to resurface.
If this all sounds a bit serious and pretentious - well, it’s not. Letter’s End is consummate entertainment. Every object in the Keeper’s room, and every object received through the mail chute, becomes an object of amusement. A mop becomes a dog that barks and tries to chase a cat. A record player becomes a radio, and then its horn becomes a sort of sail to propel the Keeper around and around (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a grown man gleefully spinning on a record player turntable several metres up in the air).
Letter’s End is all about play and imagination and the Keeper is doing all sorts of things that his audience (mainly children) can relate to. He dances with his teddy bear, he sits on an egg trying to make it hatch, he juggles, he plays music and pulls faces. In short, he has a fine time - and, yet all is not as it seems. Occasionally a piece of string appears, tied around the Keeper’s finger (and I do mean ‘appears’, Bowart’s polished sleight-of-hand is one of the things that makes this show work so well). What has the Keeper forgotten? This puzzles him for a moment, but then he forgets it again.
Later, a fly keeps buzzing around loudly, getting on the Keeper’s nerves. Could this represent something important? It may well, but Letter’s End doesn't get bogged down in philosophical questions for long. The Keeper goes all out to destroy that pesky fly - practical measures no doubt being the best way to dispel existential malaise - even enlisting a keen young lad from the audience to assist. This is a charming moment - the young volunteer being given a hard hat and put immediately to work - and has the effect of including the audience on a deeper level. If one small boy can suddenly be up there in the Keeper’s world, a part of the magic, why can’t any child in the audience?
But for most of Letter’s End there’s no other actor on stage and, in truth, Bowart doesn’t need another actor: he generates quite enough energy and joie de vivre and, yes, plot just on his own. Letter’s End is a strangely subtle piece of theatre considering that, as I said, it’s so concerned with pure entertainment. It seems to have no real direction and then, little by little, we begin to sense an undercurrent, some darker thread. In the end we discover that the Keeper is not just some silly fellow amusing himself: he represents something more universal and more poignant. I won’t ruin the ending here, but let’s just say this is a piece of theatre that gets more interesting the more you think about it. Letter’s End is intricately conceived and effortlessly executed.
Spoon Tree Productions presents
Created and performed by Wolfe Bowart
Venue: Theatre Royal, Hobart
Dates: 25 - 27 June 2009
Bookings: 03 6233 2299
Also Touring Nationally - visit www.lettersend.com.au for details