In preview tonight at Theatreworks, Love Me Tender explores a grab-bag of vaguely-related themes through a series of stories told sometimes in dramatic dialogue, and other times in literary monologue. The characters are mostly plagued by a lack of control of their circumstances and a sense of helplessness, and much of the exploration is a cavalcade of questions and of doubt, which doesn't exactly make for riveting theatre.
At a rather fundamental level, I have an objection to the mode of storytelling employed by Tom Holloway in much of Love Me Tender. This is theatre, but the events in the narratives are not actually performed on stage. Instead, performers tell their story, often in metaphor, mostly in direct address to the audience. The result is that what the audience encounters is not strictly speaking dramatic, but tends more towards the literary arts. We lose, as an audience, the capacity to read between the lines, the capacity to read the characters' relationships, and the capacity to engage with the characters' experiences as they experience them. Instead, we're left with the characters' own interpretations of their stories, and the one-dimensionality that brings. As an audience member, I felt quite hamstrung by this, and really did not engage with the stories being related without these very fundamental elements of the theatrical experience.
A somewhat redeeming feature is the energetic chorus of two (Nick Pelomis and James Tresise), who deliver a number of very strong duologues. Much of this material is comic, and all of it is delivered superbly, capturing some unique characteristics of modern Australian English, and reflecting them back to us in relief. Their humour is critical in the midst of some heady themes, and they go some way towards grounding what is otherwise an all-too-ethereal piece of work.
One of the production's finer moments centres on a father, played by Brendan Barnett, the morality of whose relationship with his daughter is questioned. He is not questioned, in fact, but feels the need nonetheless to defend himself in conversation with the second chorus (James Tresise). The twisting between the doubt over the father's integrity and the question of society's right to question his integrity is fascinating and wonderfully written, and Barnett and Tresise deliver the moment with stunning clarity. Patrick McCarthy's direction of it brings the characters to life beautifully, and on its own, this episode would make for an engaging and memorable short play, but in this context it is a moment of brilliance in an otherwise interminable morass.
It is unfortunate that moments of such clarity were so few and far between. The other performers should be commended for fine work with the limited material they were handed, but it must be noted that this is simply not a dramatic work, and the novel might perhaps have been the art form Holloway was looking for.
Mutation Theatre in association with Theatre Works presents
Love Me Tender
by Tom Holloway
Directed by Patrick McCarthy
Venue: Theatre Works | 14 Acland St, St Kilda
Preview: Wed 20 at 8pm
Dates: 20 Feb 2013 - 02 Mar 2013
Tickets: $25 – $20