Bella is entering her 30th year - a dangerous age we used to be told. For the members of Gen-Y (look it up) portrayed in British writer Nina Raine's realistic comedy of manners Rabbit (2006), Time's wingéd chariot is rumbling along all too loudly on the bumpy road. It's time to take stock, socialise the hell out of the opportunity and, inevitably, get really ugly with your friends. It's mostly uncomfortable veritas that emerges as the vino flows and vodka and reputations get slammed in what turns out to be a BLOCK CAPS WITH LOTS OF !!!! kind of party for those who turn up. Bella's joined by a handful of friends at her small though positively exuberant 29th birthday celebration in a hotel bar somewhere in Brisbane. Director Daniel Evans has relocated the play to the city, and it works well. Guests include Bella's good friend Emily, a doctor; former lover #1 Richard, a barrister but wannabe writer; former lover #2 Tom, who works in the city - in Brit parlance a stockbroker or banker; and Sandy, a writer. On the night of the party Bella's father, played with intelligence and subtlety by Norman Doyle, is hospitalised and dying from a tumor that is gradually wiping away his seat of emotions and memories; he has refused treatment. Bella is angry with her father for his decision, and guilty for not being at his bedside. We learn it's been a rocky relationship in a series of flashbacks - heartfelt duets between father and daughter. Designed by Tara Hobbs, with lighting design by Daniel Anderson and sound design from Anthony Ack Kinmouth, Daniel Evans' production of Rabbit for the indie company The Good Room is a sharp, witty, fast-paced interpretation that draws terrific performances from the cast of six, who are just about perfect for their roles. They are as slick and excellent an ensemble as you could want. The cast is headed by Amy Ingram as Bella, a successful publicist, in a performance that is as robust as it is gentle and nuanced. It's also in perfect sync with Raine's shrewd take on friendship and contemporary society. The performances by Sam Clark, Kevin Spink, Belinda Raisin, and Penny Harpham as Bella's friends are individually and collectively proof of the depth and quality of acting talent we are experiencing right now in this country. Raine writes terrific characters in this - what was her first and an award-winning work for the stage - and the dialogue is hugely enjoyable; I bet the actors loved working on their roles. Yes, Bella's Friends are all a whiny, self-indulgent, privileged bunch and, at times, as nasty as they come; with cynical friends like these etc. At times you want to slap them all in turn and, sometimes, all at once. I went for an interval drink (YES!! THERE IS AN INTERVAL!! AMAZE!!) loathing the lot of them but, as Raine develops the play throughout the second act, we experience its real strength - the development of characters whose directness and brutal honesty are, perhaps, their saving grace. You actually do end up 'caring' for them - and I count this as one of the markers of a good play/production. So, whilst opening night saw a lot of first-night adrenalin pumping on both sides of the fence - there were a lot of friends in the house - and there was probably a little too much SHOUTING AND LOUD, I have no doubt this fine company will continue developing and finessing across its season. The tiny Sue Benner Theatre will get full houses, so get in quick. Rabbit by Nina Raine for the indie company The Good Room as part of !Metro Arts Allies program plays until July 28th. Get details from the website. Like to read more Greenroom reviews? You can right here.
Images: Al Caeiro The first of the La Boite 2011 Indie season productions, Colder by Lachlan Philpott, opened at Brisbane's Roundhouse Theatre last week. Directed by Michelle Miall and performed by a cast of six actors, this play is a tonal poem of melancholy. Like slow, sad rain falling on the heart, Colder washes its audience in a threnody of loss. You've got to love the range and confidence of independent theatre in Brisbane right now. Sure, there are hits and misses - as there must be - but, as someone said a while back, it's indie work with its daring and devilry that's the life-blood of the wider theatre culture in this country. The indie voice heard in productions around town can be raucous and potty-mouthed, silly or serious. Sometimes the voice is delicate and challenging - as it is in this one. I'm a sucker for poetic theatre - the theatre of poetry - whatever you want to call it. I fell for the poetry - the beauty and un-selfconscious lyricism - of Philpott's text in Colder. Having said that and, despite the buzz of the play's language, the work feels too long in the playing - is this the production's pacing or the length and structure - even the nature - of the text itself? I wondered at the number of characters in the work and the inclusion of incidental interludes and monologues. Was it these which seemed to be holding up the core narrative? The play revolves around David (Chris Vernon) the enigmatic central character who disappeared first (and for a few hours) as a child on a visit to Disneyland, and then, never to return, as an adult in Sydney. The play's action is contextualised within the gay community of Sydney, and was inspired by one of the writer's friends who went missing some years ago. The cause of David's disappearances comes late in Colder. In direct audience address he speaks of being haunted throughout his life in pursuit of the figures of a man and a boy - the father he knew only briefly and the confident boy he could never be. It only hints - but that is enough - at how and why David remains missing. In any case, Colder is less of a mystery than a psychological exploration of the effect David's disappearances have had upon his friends and acquaintances (Kevin Spink and Kerith Atkinson in multiple roles), his lover Ed (Tony Brockman) - but especially upon his mother, Robyn, who is played by Alison McGirr and Helen Howard in younger and older versions of the same character. We walk in their shoes wondering why and how for much of the play. The ensemble of six are in fine form and, under Myall's direction, handle Philpott's lovely text very well indeed. Colder is a play that may have some asking how a text which relies more on voice than on embodiment can be improved by staging. Is it better suited for the vocal orchestration of radio where 'the pictures are better' for example? Michelle Miall's production is far from static, but characters give witness, they narrate, and they describe more often than they interact. The play is not particularly dramatic but that's no burden. This is the nature of Lachlan Philpott's script, of course and, anyway, hoorah for poetic theatre. What is gained in its staging - in breathing the same air together in the same room - is the embodied experience of grief and its effects which are as uneasy to watch as any forensic investigation must be. This is what the actors' physical presence adds. Design by Amanda Karo, lighting by Daniel Anderson and composition and sound design by Phil Slade mesh beautifully, as they should, for Michelle Miall's most satisfying production of the difficult and cold road of the grief-stricken. Colder plays at The Roundhouse Theatre as part of La Boite's Indie 2011 season until 9 July. Check the La Boite website for session times and booking details.
- Michelle Miall (Interview) (actorsgreenroom.net)