Maureen O’Hara Spends A Quiet Night At Home is an interesting work. Not necessarily a good one. Or a bad one, for that matter. Intriguing, though.
A one-woman performance piece by Brisbane performance-maker Belinda Locke, it purports to explore ideas of identity and presentation by taking a single intersection of actress Maureen O’Hara’s public and private lives (Peter Stackpole’s 1946 photograph Maureen O’Hara Spends A Quiet Night At Home) and using it to expressionistically explore her thoughts, feelings and fears.
Those ideas don’t really come across. It’s actually quite hard to glean much of substance from Locke’s abstract work. After a brief projected prelude (consisting of some of O’Hara’s work), it begins with Locke, as O’Hara, drinking and dancing to jazz in full forties regalia in her bathroom. In time, she strips completely and slips into a bath. The work is then defined by a series of surreal performance vignettes (including O’Hara as a running rabbit) and multimedia footage of some of the actual O’Hara’s performances.
It’s a work of two halves, really. In the first, it’s a decidedly no-frills rendition of a woman arriving home and relaxing with music, a drink and a bath. That woman just happens to be a famous actress. In the second, it’s a layered, sensual, imagistic exploration of ideas. Both halves have potential. There’s something very interesting about the sheer mundanity of a famous actress taking a bath that warrants exploring. Similarly, there’s a chaotic vulnerability to the latter half of the work that is really compelling.
There’s an argument to be made that the work would have been better had it focussed exclusively on either half – but Locke’s blending of the fantastical and the ordinary is one of the reasons Maureen O’Hara is such an intriguing piece of theatre (though the worlds could be blended with a little more finesse). If there is a key shortcoming to the work, it’s arguably Locke herself. Specifically, her work as a performer. She doesn’t quite have the skill to realise her ambitions as yet.
This is evident in two key areas. Firstly, her choreography. There are brief flights of physical theatre work littered throughout the piece that Locke lacks either the expertise or physicality to deliver. Secondly, her acting. Maureen O’Hara is a work of style and aesthetic – but it’s anchored by O’Hara’s emotional outlook; which Locke fails to capture or express. Occasionally, she nails it. Mostly, her work seems mechanical. This is largely why Maureen O’Hara Spends A Quiet Night At Home remains an interesting piece of work (as opposed to a bracing one).
There’s a lot of potential in the work, though. Locke quite effortlessly blends a myriad of contrasting (and typically contradictory) styles. She’s clearly no shortage of original ideas. And, when she connects with her character fully, her performance is electric. Maureen O’Hara’s most visceral tableau comes down to a splash of water and a single haunted expression.
It’s perhaps best to think of Maureen O’Hara Spends A Quiet Night At Home as a transitional work. Given time (or even just the right director), Locke would seem more than capable of delivering something truly startling. This just seems like part of that process.
Judith Wright Centre presents
Maureen O’Hara Spends a Quiet Night At Home
Directed and performed by Belinda Locke
Venue: Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts | 420 Brunswick St (cnr Berwick St), Fortitude Valley QLD
Dates: 19 – 29 June, 2013
Tickets: $24 – $19