The City | Red StitchLeft - Meredith Penman, Fiona Macleod and Dion Mills. Cover - Fiona Macleod and Dion Mills. Photos - Jodie Hutchinson

A family, their children, their neighbor, a nurse. Off-stage, a war, an absent husband, a writer, his child, now living, now dead. If you try and analyse the story of The City any further, you won’t get very far because reality is up for grabs here. With the premise that underneath all our conventional interactions, no matter how intimate, there is an entire other universe of desire, intent and the hovering threat of violence, the play allows its characters to voice their own fears or desires but never to comfort one another. They may hold human conversations but their emotional orbits do not overlap. Even in the apparently most innocuous of discourses there is much else going on.

The City is one of the most inspiring and unconventional works I’ve seen in a while, mesmerizing all the way through. It is brilliantly directed (by Adena Jacobs) and performed. We know Dion Mills is good but in this show he truly comes into his own in as Christopher in a performance that builds in intensity until we can imagine him doing absolutely anything. Fiona Macleod does some of her best work without uttering a word; the anguish she can portray is at times unnerving. Macleod doesn’t drop the ball for a second as Clair; she and Mills are most ably supported by Meredith Penman as the nurse on the verge of a nervous breakdown and by little Georgie Hawkins (sharing the role with Fantine Banulski) as the daughter. A mention has to be made of the subtle but effective lighting design. There was very nearly a hint of soundtrack predictably when a piano music came into play but this device was thoroughly deconstructed so there was no obvious underlining of text by score.

The language in this play is taut and stretched, thrumming with menace. The characters never feel safe and neither do we. Martin Crimp’s play examines the isolated goings-on of a family, struggling to balance themselves in individual despair, attempting to connect, to share, and seemingly doing so in words but the shifting ground makes it impossible for anyone to hold fast. The world outside offers unemployment, a secret war, piano playing that is ugly when you listen closely and encounters with the horrible truths of other lives.

The work’s ancestry can be traced to Brecht and Kafka; the tightness of the writing lends an absurdist tone to its circular layers of sadness, terror and futility but the play doesn’t stop there. It isn’t grim (although the story it tells is) and the irony can be exquisitely funny. Nor does it tidy anything up. It is a skillfully built up picture of loneliness where the commonplace threads connecting individuals are woven into a noose.

The City is very, very good indeed.

Red Stitch presents
The City
by Martin Crimp

Directed by Adena Jacobs

Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre | Rear, 2 Chapel St, St Kilda
Dates: 1 - 25 September, 2010
Times: Wed - Sat 8.00pm, Sunday 6.30pm
Bookings: (03) 9533 8083 |

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