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Tag: Attic Erratic

Theatre review: Ad Nauseam

Dear Dad

“Watch us appear, then disappear, emerge, then vanish. Watch us.” We do, as trying as it may be, in Attic Erratic’s latest production of Tom Pitts’ play, whose title conjures, in this case, self-indulgence to a nauseating degree. A glow affords a quick glimpse of the actors, before blackness swallows them up. Another tantalising flicker, and again, they are gone. We begin to feel the weight of the oppressive darkness, on our eyes, then our breasts. But just when we long to scream from asphyxiation, we blink, the lights rise, releasing us from the disconcerting delirium that is the epitome of this memorable performance.

In an arresting monologue, a man waxes lyrical about his looks, about his disgust of the commuting office class, his disdain of admiring womenfolk. As if thrusting his hand into his chest, he pulls out the deepest consciousness of humankind, and boldly challenges anyone who thinks they’re not like him. Hardening himself against a knowing sadness he sees on his girlfriend’s “brow”, the man leaves her behind, plunging into an enticing night of hedonism, of heady promise.

Written in lush poetic style, Pitts’ script is muscular and visceral, and there is a raw physicality about his engagement with the emotional life that energises his lines. Intricately woven with similes and metaphors, his poetry only makes one wish for more time and space in which to savour and chew. But that is surely the point. This is a world where emotions are fervid and the adrenaline rush intense, tilted so we feel it in the character’s perspective.

This is a powerful and dramatically effective evening, made all the more potent by Sarah Walker’s familiar nightclub set that is littered with wine glasses and empty pints. And, of course, her extraordinary lighting design, which can be as stark — in pitch or in light — as it can be nuanced, creating transient puddles of light in a capricious night.

Nick Bendall gives a riveting performance as the central cast. Inhabiting the role as if himself, he is obnoxious yet sensuous, honest yet vile. He is good at taking Pitts’ emotional expressions and wringing the most out of them. If his later contrition does little to win sympathy, it is probably because we know we ourselves hardly deserve it. No mention of Grace Travaglia can be made without observations about her eyes: downcast and melancholic, they draw us into the girlfriend’s depths of wordless solitude. Kate Laverack, too, is remarkable. Her sheer presence as the bewitching other gives the stage a fierce and fiery edge.

Still, it is Pitts’ exquisite soundscape, the veritable fourth character, that completes the tapestry. Interweaving thumping rock with lyrical waltz, his original composition is as adept at manipulating our sensibilities — we feel empathy when we should be repugnant; horror when we should be in solidarity — as solid darkness is, at rattling us.

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Theatre review: Tell them that it rained too hard

Dear Dad

That promiscuity is fashionable and inspiring is as much a myth as the title of the play is a lie. Tell them that it rained too hard is a daring and honest examination of our society’s attitudes towards carnal indiscrimination and sexual modesty. Despite offering up a platform for both ideals to be heard and empathised — if not more partial to the former than the latter — the production ends with a patently salutary message.

In a brisk outline, Tell them that it rained too hard resembles one of those Sex and the City serials that openly discusses issues around sexual liberation and social ideals — those that seem somewhat jaded and pedestrian now. But Tom Pitts, the thoughtful playwright and exquisite composer known for his talent in combining music and drama to devastatingly sublime effect, brings the play alive with utterly recognisable characters and haunting tunes.

Directed with becoming delicacy by Celeste Cody, one of the theatre company’s artistic directors, who last year collaborated with Pitts in Christina: A Story With Music and Ad Absurdum to critical acclaim, the play also benefits immeasurably from performance of limpid truth by a highly talented cast.

Kaitlyn Clare plays a sensuous young woman, Helen, who revels in the frisson of new sexual encounters. She believes every man possesses a mystical magic that dissipates the moment fornication is done and excitement exploited. She recoils from the idea of monogamy for no one “really wants to travel on the same road again and again”.

So, when Elizabeth, her best friend, played by Vivienne Garnett, prepares to settle down, Helen is privately ambivalent, deeply convinced that Elizabeth will come to rue her choice. Seeing herself as a rousing influence, leading with chutzpah to live out people’s most visceral desires, Helen recollects Elizabeth’s eyes brimming with gratitude for taking her where she would never have ventured.

The play’s abstruse title refers to a phrase used by Helen’s mother in narrating a story surrounding the father Helen never knew. “Tell them that it rained too hard,” was what he said to her mother, exhorting her to call the authorities, before being swept away by the country floods — Helen is repeatedly told. Until now, she has never thought to question the veracity of the tale.

The production is delightfully peppered with delicious metaphors. Mother’s artful stacking, then un-stacking, of inverted milk crates into one straight line on the ground suggests that her own past paves the way back to none other than the main street, from where she urges Helen to avoid. When Elizabeth’s fiance, Mark, attributes their tardiness to the “flashing amber lights” that really want to turn to green but cannot, he is unwittingly spelling out Elizabeth’s restrained desires for a former flame.

The most profound metaphor, perhaps, comes right at the outset in Helen’s soliloquy about the colourful harlot parade. It is not hard to imagine what Michael, Elizabeth’s brother — femme fatale’s latest victim– whispered into Helen’s ear when he finally coaxed her into bed again, under the unforgiving gaze of judging voyeurs.

While Pitts’ writing is brutal — flirting perilously close with misogyny — Cody and Stephanie Spiers’ stylish and tasteful direction (and stunning costumes) combines with Ian Tsaoussi’s eloquent lighting and Pitts’ own atmospheric music to create a mood that plies the murky hinterland between eroticism and elegance, between the sordid and the sensible.

Nevertheless, the production is affecting mostly because the cast does not push to make it so. Clare’s protagonist Helen is absolutely compelling, transitioning from defiance and seductiveness to morning-after disgust, disappointment then dejection — at times astounding with a simultaneous melange.

Garnett’s Elizabeth is just as fine: her outstanding depiction of a woman’s susceptibility to temptation is an embarrassing reality many fervently deny but secretly acknowledge. Her turn-around on watching her brother suffer at the receiving end of such decadence is entirely convincing.

Special mention must be made of Maree Cody who plays Mother. Her effortless portrayal of a parent desperately hoping against history repeating itself while somewhat resigned in the knowledge of its inexorable prospect speaks to her consummate skill as a reliable stage veteran.

Enormous talent is also displayed by Sam Lund as fiance Mark, Nick Bendall as brother Michael, James Deeth as old-flame Alan and Christian Connolly as Man — his nonchalance as beguiling to the audience as it is to the protagonist.

The acts of heart-quickening flirtation, hilarious parody and lewd antics played out by the three pairs of voyeurs and drunks, too, are remarkable. One cannot help but be captivated by Grace Travaglia’s low-cast eyes that are totally inebriated in the moment as she feels Alex Roe’s fingers creeping up her arm.

Perhaps, as the play’s ending alludes, the only way to sustain someone still clinging to the rejected and fading notion of promiscuity is an enduring promise of the ever-tantalising, the never knowing and never possessing — never mind that it comes with a promise their future will be as much a disgrace as the lie: “Tell them that it rained too hard.”

Theatre review: Vanitas

Dear Dad

A family portrait hangs on the wall of Vestige Manor. Reginald Vestige is seen beaming from behind his dancing moustache; his wife, Valerie, is straining to show her well-toned calves. And while son Alistair sulks with aura and attitude, and daughter Elizabeth oozes with scholarly aptitude, Grandma Edith peers coquettishly from her sitting pose.

Attic Erratic’s Vanitas is a modern-day theatrical version of the 17th century Dutch genre. Set in country Australia, this scorchingly funny play is not only a satire on society’s excessive preoccupation with looks, abilities and achievements but a salutary warning that the relentless pursuit of vanity and impression is the surefire way to self-destruction.

The production opens with a preface which, albeit incurring audience laughter, depicts vanity as something hideous, omnipresent and unstoppable — a dark obsessive force feeding off societal perception and social values.

Like the manor that has lost its grandeur — the hotel has not seen a guest in three decades — members of the Vestige household are each wallowing in their twilight years. Resisting it, however, Reginald trains his moustache and grooms his guns to hide his want of marksmanship while his sexually-frustrated wife invests as much in her spirituality as in her legs for all to see. As school drop-out Alistair indulges in fashion brands and poetic depths, unemployed Elizabeth busies herself with Sudoku and re-writing books. Then, there is Grandma Edith who demands as much attention as the advertising model she was in her yesteryears. And, weaving amongst them, in faithful service, is their loyal and compliant butler Help.

So, when a Guest arrives to stay, the manor erupts into a preening frenzy. But as she threatens to leave, weary of their narcissistic self-exultation at her hapless expense and disgusted by their callous disregard of her basic welfare, the Vestiges try to do everything in the opposite.

As Attic Erratic takes a mischievious and light-hearted approach to a serious matter, Danny Delahunty employs a multitude of topspins that culminate in an enormously entertaining tragicomedy, incisive in its commentary that vanity is not what you wear or do, but who you really are.

Whether it is Reginald’s wonderfully held facial expression, Valerie’s hilarious moves, Alistair’s convincing character, Elizabeth’s stylised poise or Edith’s studied and well-maintained voice, the cast certainly has their audience transfixed and doubling over in helpless stitches. Not forgetting, of course, the Guest’s highly deceptive actorly ease and Help’s marvellously seamless transitions — between narrator, butler, table and cat.

In the end, as we come to see, the family’s only Vestige of their life-long and earthly pursuits may well be the still-life portrait, Vanitas — if that.

Theatre review: The Walls

Dear Dad

The Walls by Giuliano Ferla are as literary as they are literal. His play is an excoriating investigation into how a language — overworked by an illusory sense of cerebral superiority — can erect walls within which one is trapped forever. It is an honest examination at a phase in one’s life when solipsism and over-dependence on a partner or spouse can so easily lead to paranoia and desolation.

Man (Nicholas Bendall) and Woman (Emily Goddard) are a happy couple; she is pregnant. They move into a “walled-up” community, idealistic in their belief that each has everything the other needs. Speaking in a massively-evolved language that denies common understanding, he imagines himself to be of the literati. As she idolises him and is happy to be subservient to his intellectual ability, he is chest-full of self-regard and basks in the delusional glory of her adulation.

When the baby arrives and the Woman’s focus is shifted markedly from him to their child, the Man becomes twisted in jealousy and insecurity. He chastises her for using baby language and denigrates her fantasy tales. Neighbours are avoided like a nest of vipers and their friendly gestures are rebuffed as treacherous.

By now, the Woman’s life has come to revolve only around the baby. Confronting unwelcome advances from neighbours on the one hand and languishing in mis-communication with his raison d’être on the other hand, the Man sinks into anguish and isolation. Wistfully, he reminisces happier times. Worse yet, as he reinforces the brick and mortar around his family, he realises that it is the prison of his own language from which he cannot escape.

Ferla sows his motifs throughout the play and skilfully plants parable upon parable — the “Planetoid” story about dependence and loneliness being the more memorable. While the stylised action looks at first to be about a couple, it soon becomes clear that Ferla’s satire centres more on the Man than on the Woman.

Bendall’s interpretation of the Man conveys a fitting sense of foreboding and Goddard’s portrayal of the Woman is surprisingly vivid and convincing. Their actorly assurance is beyond reproach and the virtuosity with which they manage a language so complex is deeply impressive.

Ferla directs this compelling piece with the same idiosyncratic boldness of style that he employs in his choice of language. His inventive set puts the confines of the studio to effective use. And Ed Gould’s original score supports the drama with flair and wit.

Finally, Ferla has certainly driven his message home; The (literary) Walls have proven too formidable for his lines to be fully appreciated and understood.

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