It’s 7.58pm and The Tower, a secluded, black box space, filled with Euygeene Teh’s drawing-room set of The Artisan Collective’s production of the acclaimed version of Pains of Youth by Martin Crimp (Attempts on Her Life) eagerly awaits an audience. Originating from Austrian writer, Ferdinand Bruckner, this story takes place in 1923, Vienna. It contains tightly wound characters, medical students, suffering the ‘sickness of youth’, medicating themselves with tongue lashings of desire, and playing the ‘game’, which not only means prostitution, but complex wars within and against gender.
The story takes place over one night, the children of the First World War Generation, cohabitating at a boarding house. Manipulation of the heart, in genders, loyalty, academia, drug use, and status quo, create an evening’s sport, much like a game of ping pong. Crimp’s text is beautifully punctuated with lines such as; ‘Everybody needs an opportunity to visit an emotional toilet’ and ‘young people get accused of absolutely everything’.
When performed at the National Theatre in London 2009, Pains of Youth received critical acclaim via The Independent, and The Guardian, consequently selling out the season. The National Theatre has a world-renowned experience in producing top quality theatre, but at the heart of any theatrical production, irrespective of track record, there is a consistent requirement of theatrical truth via the suspension of disbelief.
The major issue that drowns The Artisan Collective’s production is the absence of any conceptual focus towards ‘truthfulness’, sabotaging any possibility of the suspension of disbelief. It is fractured; two-dimensional and the performances are superficial, with no central supporting spine of theme, idea or directorial view. The dialogue, engaging and eloquent in its writing, comes crashing down in waves, landing in all corners of the theatre, the actors brandishing the language around without meaning. The entire production is like a tennis match with no ball.
The cast appeared disconnected from the text, with Ben Pfeiffer’s direction faltering in safe and simple choices, predictable limiting choices of imagery, deflating menacing crisis points clearly present in the dramatic structure, set up by Crimp’s theatrical framework of text. I struggled to suspend my disbelief with particular performances by Charlie Cousins, and Leila Rodgers. With Cousins swallowing dialogue in a fastidious, light droning tone, manipulating Rodgers who appeared to be hypnotised and drugged with her staring eyes and lack lustre energy. Overall, the performances came across more like series of acting skills being used by clever students.
A further unfortunate flaw in this production is apparent in the staging and playing of critical, physically aggressive, sexually charged, moments. One in particular, in which actress, Kristine Brew, throws and smashes a glass in a fit of frustration and rage. The sound was fantastic! Brew then walked across the glass, in thin ballet pumps, and continued to play the scene standing in the middle of the shattered, crunchy mess. Health and safety issues occupied the remaining thoughts, until the curtain call came.
If Pfeiffer had made a conscious choice to stage Pains of Youth in a stylised manner as to have some other choice in viewing lens, for the audience, other than a slightly heightened, Noel Coward-esque realism, then the play may have been more accessible and believable. The Artisan Collective’s production was more like a rehearsed reading without the script, and definitely not a highlight on my list-of-things-to-do on a Friday night.
The Artisan Collective presents
Pains of Youth
by Ferdinand Bruckner | in a new version by Martin Crimp
Directed by Ben Pfeiffer
Venue: The Tower, C.U.B Malthouse
Dates: 9 – 24 September 2011
Tickets: $38.50 – $28.50
Bookings: M-tix www.malthousetheatre.com.au