Left - Katherine Tonkin and Luke Mullins. Cover - Katherine Tonkin, Luke Mullins and Susie Dee.
The nineteen eighties are a decade remembered with embarrassment and affection. Bubble skirts and big hair reigned supreme, Tom Cruise was sane and leg warmers were a good look. The eighties revival movement started in earnest around the time that ‘The Wedding Singer’ movie was released. But that was 1998. Surely by now pop culture has moved on from referencing a decade defined by pop culture. Hasn’t it?
The Man with the September Face is presented as part of Full Tilt at The Arts Centre. Written by Kylie Trounson and directed by Clare Watson, The Man with the September Face is steeped so heavily in eighties nostalgia that it’s almost stifling.
It’s the story of Jesse (Luke Mullins), a young roller-skater filled with potential but consumed by existential angst. Pushing him towards a career as a skater is his over-bearing Mum Naura (Belinda McClory) who has fabricated details about a mysterious absent father. Jesse’s arch nemesis Wolf is played with comic consistency by Chris Ryan and Rona, the owner of the skating rink, is portrayed with relish by Susie Dee. Jesse finds a friend in the effervescent Harriet (Katherine Tonkin) and together they discover a love of communism, cultural theory and the quest to create something meaningful.
The roller rink provides a haven from the drudgery of suburban life and we are privy to flights of fantasy, glimpses into the private lives of the characters and their desire for the extraordinary.
However, Jesse soon discovers that nothing lasts forever and his glitter soaked world begins to tumble around him. The innocence he once found in a pair of roller-skates is gradually replaced by the sober reality of impending adulthood.
The Man with the September Face is completely deliberate in its kitsch, high camp recreations of eighties songs, fashions and hairstyles.
The tension in the tone of the work stems from its uneasy position between parody and sincerity. At the core needs to be a story that can stand alone from the masses of razzle dazzle that surround it. But the script relies too much on cute devices, such as the extensive use of song lyrics and movie quotes as dialogue, interspersed with a mediocre familial drama.
In this way the work becomes overwhelmed by nostalgia and unfocused in its commentary, struggling to escalate beyond a ‘spot that pop culture reference’ quiz for the members of generation X in the audience.
The characters walk the line between caricature and genuine characterisation. As a result, they either go too far or not far enough, failing to evoke real empathy and create three-dimensionality. There are also basic inconsistencies in the script, like a Jesse who fumbles with the application of anagrams suddenly becoming capable of spouting and deconstructing critical theory.
All that said, there are some very funny moments in The Man with the September Face as well as some excellent roller-skating and a whale costume to die for. Kelly Ryall provides an appropriately synthesised sound design, resplendent with skinny tie and key-tar.
But once the novelty of roller-skating in the Fairfax wore off and the slight nausea of watching the revolving skaters set in it turned out that The Man with the September Face is a lot like its main protagonist. Striving so hard to be ‘something’ that all you end up with is a giant revolving mirror ball above an empty stage.
FULL TILT at the Arts Centre presents
The Man with the September Face
by Kylie Trounson
Directed by Clare Watson
Venue: Fairfax Studio, the Arts Centre
Dates: 9 - 19 Dec 2009
Tickets: $23 - $28
Bookings: 1300 182 183 | www.theartscentre.com.au