Venue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 11 – 28, 2014
Playwright: Alison Lyssa
Director: Sarah Vickery
Actors: Ali Aitken, John Michael Burdon, Leo Domingan, Emma Louise, Faran Martin, Karoline O’Sullivan
Pinball first appeared in 1980/81, providing an early voice for the plight of lesbian mothers, who had faced oppressive heteronormative forces in their fight for rights to custody of their children. Alison Lyssa’s words are powerful and devastating. With the passage of time, her feminist point of view as expressed in the play may resonate differently from original intentions, but her depiction of misogyny and homophobia in Western and Christian societal structures remains accurate, scathing and raw.
Sarah Vickery’s direction, like the pinball, brings colour, movement, bells and whistles to the work, effectively preventing the play from lingering too much in dark and dour territory. There is however an unevenness and disunity in acting styles, which results in confusion with storylines, and performers detracting from each other’s work. Karoline O’Sullivan plays melodrama well and excels with a sense of fragility and earnestness, but without the appropriate support from the rest of the production, her performance seems off-kilter. John Michael Burdon works extremely hard in all of his five roles, and is delightful in scenes that require his assertive flamboyance, but less effective when restraint is needed.
Pinball machines are frustrating. They deny your will and go where they wish, despite all your attempts at imposing control over their journeys. This is also true of revolutionary politics and art. Feminism and queer politics seek to destabilise and correct the failings of our status quo, and theatre has the responsibility to challenge and advance conventions when things become too cosy and predictable. Sometimes it’s just not about you liking it.