Music | Stories Like These and Griffin IndependentLeft – Kate Skinner and Anthony Gee. Cover – Tom Stokes, Anthony Gee, Kate Skinner. Photos – Kurt Sneddon

It’s hard to know what to write about Music. I often feel like this about plays which are based on real-life experience. Music, as playwright Jane Bodie writes in her note in the program, has its roots in her experience as the sister of someone who suffers mental illness, and her accompanying concerns about the way that mental illness is portrayed in drama. This knowledge that what you’re watching is based on someone’s actual experiences makes it difficult to say what I have to about this play: it didn’t work for me.

Music follows Adam (Anthony Gee), who suffers a severe case of an unspecified mental illness. He is approached by Gavin (Tom Stokes), an actor who is doing research, preparing for a role as a mentally ill person in a new play. This in turn leads Adam to encounter Gavin’s co-star Sarah (Kate Skinner). Sarah does not tend to condescend to Adam like other characters do – Gavin is especially guilty of this, but we also see it in Adam’s well-meaning friend Tom (Sam O’Sullivan), who checks in on him from time to time. Illness and acting collide as the play moves towards its ending – an ending which I won’t spoil here, but which seemed to me quite ludicrous and certainly out of keeping with the otherwise realistic feel of the play.

This play did not have a hero’s journey: this wasn’t a show about a plucky young man overcoming the challenges that mental illness presented him and learning to live a normal life. And that’s totally fine – I share Bodie’s concerns about the lack of nuance and complexity surrounding the portrayal of mental illness in drama. Mental illness is not used as a plot point here, or as a simple obstacle to be overcome, and I really appreciated that. However, this play didn’t seem to have much of a narrative at all. The framing devices used seemed kind of half-hearted and didn’t really relate to the story: the eponymous music, for instance. At one point, Adam remarks to Sarah that he had to sell some of his music (cassettes and CDs), but he knows exactly what he sold, and that he wants to get back all his old music before he gets anything new. I thought this was a beautiful allegory for attempting to rebuild a life, but it’s never returned to again. Music features only in scene changes, in Adam’s The Smiths t-shirt, and in the music he occasionally plays in the background. It didn’t go anywhere, and I felt like the play kind of did the same thing.

Music isn’t the only narrative thread in the play that’s raised and then cast aside: Adam’s financial problems, for example, are mentioned on occasion but there’s no resolution, nor any move towards one. This lack of narrative cohesion made the end of the play feel even stranger, because it came out of nowhere. We’ve heard repeatedly that Gavin is an actor. At the climax, we finally see him act, but it feels forced and faked: thematically, as well as realistically (this particular plot twist is kind of ridiculous – a device that Dickens could successfully use in his writing is not one that works in a modern day setting). The sequence of events on stage also makes it seem that Gavin changes personality because of an injury, which… yeah, no.

I felt that in Music, narrative was sacrificed for characterisation. What narrative there was certainly felt superimposed. I’ve really enjoyed all the other plays by Jane Bodie I’ve seen – in particular, I loved loved LOVED This Year’s Ashes a few years back – but Music missed the mark for me. I don’t feel like the narrative threads were integrated particularly well, and despite some excellent performances, this show left me cold.

Stories Like These and Griffin Independent present
by Jane Bodie

Director Corey McMahon

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre | 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross
Dates: 5 – 26 April, 2014
Tickets: $35 – $28

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