Left - Luisa Hastings Edge
It's always a treat to see a performance at La Mama. I may not be sure what to expect, not necessarily a bad thing, but one thing I can be certain of is that I'll find the tiny theatre totally transformed since my last visit.
This was the case last Thursday when I saw Something Natural But Very Childish written and directed by Gary Abrahams with an Ensemble of recent (within the last ten years) VCA graduates. This time the audience was on two sides, the action taking place in a rectangular space with an upright piano and a couple of Edwardian chairs at one end, in front of a garden wall covered in climbers; a square podium in the centre; and a bench and chair at the end up against the staircase, again decorated with climbers. Leaves scattered the floor.
The play is based on, adapted from and inspired by the short stories of Katherine Mansfield. In his director's notes Abrahams explains that he and the ensemble sifted through and explored a selection of Mansfield stories dealing with the fantasy of love in an effort to create a fluid work that can be read as a whole, a great big beast made up of many small parts. And that's exactly what they have achieved, a two hour drama that, whilst frequently being very funny, achingly evokes the joys and heartache of love – young love, married love, extra-marital love, love lost and love found. There is plenty of repressed emotion (the setting is after all Edwardian England with all it's mannerisms), thwarted desire, pretence, and dreams.
The performances are universally strong, with commitment and passion evident in every one. Thomas Conroy and Amanda Falson as the young lovers Henry and Edna evoke all the uncertainty, excitement and hope of that first love. Luisa Hastings Edge and Josh Price as Anne and Reggie are equally moving in their restrained efforts to make an emotional connection, despite each knowing that this is an impossible dream, at least for them. Zoe Ellerton Ashley and Cameron Moore as Mrs Elsa Bullen and Mr Max Bullen are the epitome of the stereotypical, respectable Edwardian couple: he contained and unemotional, she feeling unloved and restricted in their relationship. Enter the singing teacher, Mr Peacock (Luke Jacka) and there is trouble a brewing as Elsa's passions are encouraged and eventually released.
Abrahams direction is faultless, moving his cast of seven characters with seeming ease around and through the restricted space so that the action never flags and the separate stories blend together to make a comment on love in all its variety. I particularly loved the use of the podium as a train, complete with strap hangers, with the two young lovers being jostled one against the other both to their joy and their embarrassment.
And the writing, well that too is strong. Abrahams comments that his relationship with Mansfield's writing is vividly emotional and visceral and this comes through in his adaptation. Again, as explained in the program notes, some stories have been used in their entirety, whilst others have had mere moments extracted. The exchanges between Annie and Reggie, the two major characters in Mansfield's story Mr and Mrs Dove, are brought to dramatic life with humour and pathos by Luisa Hastings Edge and Josh Price. The latter gives an entirely credible and wonderfully humourous portrayal of a downtrodden son desperately seeking love and acceptance from a woman who is his social superior. Other characters and incidents are re-created by Abrahams to serve the cause of a cohesive work of theatre, connected by its themes of love, rather than a collection of literary short stories.
Everyone involved in this production deserves praise for together they have created an entertaining and thought-provoking piece of theatre.
a DIRTY PRETTY THEATRE production
Something Natural But Very Childish
by Gary Abrahams | adapted from several short stories by Katherine Mansfield
Directed by Gary Abrahams
Venue: La Mama Theatre 205 Faraday Street Carlton
Dates: 2 - 20 June, 2010
Times: Tues, Wed & Sun @ 6.30pm, Thur, Frid & Sat @ 8pm
Bookings: 03 9347 6142