It's fitting we should have a play about deception at a time when dupes, hoaxes and cons are rife. Mind you, has it ever been any other way? In Tamarama Rock Surfers' The Interview, written by Dutchman, Theodor Holman, currently playing the Bondi Pavilion, Katya (Alison McGirr) and Pierre (Kip Gamblin) rub up against each other. Some of the time, they rub each other the wrong way. Sometimes, the right way. But, mostly, Sam Atwell's adaptation rubbed me the wrong way. Pity, if only to afford more kudos for Tom Bannerman's intrusive set, a work of art in itself. Work of art or not, however, it soon seems like a distraction from the action on stage and one wonders what the rationale for such an elaborate masterpiece is. But that's the least of Atwell's problems.
I can't vouch for Theo Van Gogh's 2003 film of Holman's script, as I've never seen it. But I know enough about it to realise the point of that film was to perpetrate doubt in the mind of all concerned: makers, actors and viewers, by way of having an actor, Pierre Bokma, playing a middle-aged, hard-hitting political correspondent inexplicably assigned to interview real-lfe actress Katja Schuurmann. The lines are further blurred and confusion intensified by the actors assuming their own names. So, why would Atwell, in updating and Australianising the script, stick with Pierre and Katja for the names of his characters? This, in a way, trivial annoyance proves emblematic, or symptomatic, or hydramatic, of the wholistic dramatic problem that so afflicts the entire play. Pierre Peters, while possible, is not a credible name for the journo; nor does the broadly Aussie-accented Katja sit comfortably with her assumed name. Why not Alison (McGirr) and Kip, so that some approximation of those blurred lines between fact and fiction were at least implied? Instead we have a setup that's unbelievable from the very first line. The actors don't look confident about what they're doing. Then again, why would they? How could they? After all, if I don't get it, maybe they don't either. To add insult to injury, Pierre, we are to believe, is old enough to be Katja's father; yet Gamblin looks barely old enough for that.
Of course, not all of the blame lies with Atwell. Holman's premise of assigning a political journo to research and pen a throwaway celebrity profile challenges credulity too much, to begin with. It's virtually impossible to suspend disbelief to accept Pierre would be there, in Katja's idiosyncratically decorated warehouse apartment. But instead of working to mitigate against it, Atwell invents a political crisis in Canberra, only exacerbating our disbelief. It defies understanding and only served to frustrate and aggravate my mounting impatience.
I might have been able to overlook all of the above, had the dialogue been sharp and pithy. Instead, it's inane, tedious, cliched and empty. By dizzying turns, Pierre and Katja joust and flirt; a cycle that repeats but goes nowhere. The only thing we have to provoke or entertain us is the game in which we are challenged to decide how much, if any, of what they're disclosing is earnest; how much exaggerations or outright lies. And I'm not sure even the rather more interesting, underlying cultural, sociopolitical and philosophical dimensions of that exploration are worth the effort, since it really is a protracted exercise in tedium. But what are those dimensions? Well, insofar as it goes, The Interview is a compelling study of the somewhat blurred and arbitrary boundaries that define reality from fantasy. Is a convincing story, well-told, as good as a true one? Or better? How do we know when we're hearing, seeing or reading the truth, inasmuch as it exists as a discrete, objective entity? Captivating questions indeed, but swallowed here by vacuous dialogue.
If Atwell's mission is to convince us we've an unhealthy obsession with the superficial, at the profound expense of the political and humanitarian, we know. At least those of us awake enough to know, or want to know, know. The rest are a lost cause and almost certainly won't be found at the Bondi Pavilion seeing this play. Even if they do, they'll have to have x-ray vision to penetrate the sludge of dialogue obscuring that very idea as surely as Bannerman's eccentrically protuberant, suspended set blocks sight lines. Metaphor, I s'pose.
Atwell has shown before his heart's in the right place, but I don't know where his head went in selecting and adapting this script. He surely must be seeing merits that are practically invisible to me. This is an ill-conceived, regrettable piece of work. And, unfortunately for them, not even an intriguing soundtrack by Alon Ilsar, nor the best efforts of the actors can save the day. Or the play.
Tamarama Rock Surfers presents
by Theodor Holman and Theo Van Gogh | adapted by Sam Atwell
Director Sam Atwell
Venue: The Bondi Pavillion Theatre
Dates: October 31 – November 23 2012
Tickets: $33 – $25