Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Dec 4 – 7, 2013
Playwright: Steven Berkoff
Director: Serhat Caradee
Actors: Katherine Shearer, Rowan McDonald
Steven Berkoff’s script Decadence is essentially about morality, and it displays thoroughly and explicitly, the manifestations of immorality within the context of 1980s Thatcherite Britain. It is bold writing in verse form, with emphasis on language and character dynamics, and minimal reliance on conventional narrative structures. Berkoff’s characters are cold and obnoxious. This is not the kind of play that inspires empathy or identification, but it is persistently fascinating.
Serhat Caradee’s direction focuses squarely on the performances of his two leads, and his efforts pay off with excellent work from the actors. Caradee is particularly strong in sustaining the high energy, almost chaotic tone of the show, while giving texture and layers to what is basically a play based on a singular idea. There are a few moments, however, where one could imagine a greater user of space. Whether it be additional performers, multimedia elements, or set and props, various supplementary components could have been introduced to magnify some of the dramatics, even though the relatively bare staging does have its charms.
Katherine Shearer’s infectious playfulness endears her instantly to the audience. There is an old-fashioned sensibility to her mode of performance which is full of allure, and perfectly suited to the era in which the action is set. She brings a joy to the stage, providing a welcome counterbalance to the dark cynicism of the writing. Rowan McDonald is a highly animated actor, who obviously enjoys the absurdity and biting social criticism of the play. The range of physical, vocal and facial expressions he introduces into his work is truly breathtaking. There is a dogged tenacity to McDonald’s stagecraft that is magnetic, and he holds our attention to present concepts that are sometimes subversive, and always entertaining.
Indeed, Berkoff’s subversive spirit is represented with great success in this production. The energetic and entertaining performers prevent things from being too alienating, but the work’s political edge is thankfully not lost. The message might be a difficult one to take in, but the thrills and spills of the ride are certainly rewarding.