Venue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 19 – 30, 2014
Playwrights: Jonathan Ari Lander, Noelle Janaczewska, Katie Pollock, Alison Rooke, Mark Langham, Ellana Costa, Melita Rowston
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Actors: Alice Keohavong, Helen Tonkin, Peter McAllum, Matt Butcher, Kit Bennett, Gavin Roach, Naomi Livingstone
Image by Zorica Purlija
Subtlenuance’s new production features seven monologues by seven different actors and seven different playwrights. The monologues are presented as a cohesive whole by director Paul Gilchrist, although it is always clear where each story begins and ends. The theme that binds them is the concept of spirituality, with a focus on the actors’ personal experiences, rather than their beliefs.
Common themes emerge. We hear revelations about family, religion and the metaphysical. We also see a sense of struggle that often comes into play in these reflections on spiritual lives. Naomi Livingstone’s piece starts in a space of hopelessness and pain. Her performance is heartfelt and sincere, with a powerful emotional quality that she tends to slightly over-indulge in. Nevertheless, the authenticity in her expression invites us in and helps us connect with her story. Ellana Costa’s interpretation of her story is well structured, and the imagery they create is vivid and uplifting. Gavin Roach’s style is vibrant and camp. The actor’s enjoyment of the stage and his eagerness in keeping his audience engaged, makes him the most entertaining of the group. Mark Langham’s script for Roach’s story is probably the most complex in the show, which helps the performer craft a segment that is more elaborate, physical and livelier than the others.
Matt Butcher’s piece about his grandmother is one of loss and longing. He craves an impossible meeting with her, and finds solace in his memories of their time together. Jonathan Ari Lander does a good job putting those recollections to words, and Butcher uses them to paint a bitter sweet picture of reminiscence and love. In a similar vein, Helen Tonkin recalls her father, further illustrating the link between family and spirituality. Assisted by Peter McAllum’s performance, their depiction of the father and daughter relationship tenderly demonstrates the depth at which childhood experiences affect our lives.
The trouble with monologues is that they are too often written without keeping in mind the other senses that an audience brings with it to the theatre. There must be a difference between reading a poem or a memoir on paper, and going to see a staged performance. There are instances in this production that feel as though the writing would have worked better in a book, but the personal nature of the material helps make the production feel earnest and accessible. There is a resonance that exists where people dig deep to tell personal stories, and in High Windows Low Doorways, the cast wants us to hear them, but the commonality of our experiences also makes us feel heard.