Review: Arthur’s Place (TAP Gallery)

arthursplace1Venue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), May 7 – 11, 2014
Playwright: Ben Eadie
Director: Ruth Fingret
Actors: Dominic Witkop, Aaron Nilan, Matt Jacobsen, Steve Vincent, Timothy Parsons, Jamie Merendino, Cait Burley

Theatre review
The young Australian man has in recent times become a subject of interest in media and social discourse. Characterised as violent, drunk and disorderly, he is also often considered to be of white and middle class origins. Ben Eadie’s script is concerned with this particular group of “lost souls”. Six characters are created to represent an aimless but troubled segment of our society, each with a distinctive personality type but all are purposeless except for a preoccupation with drugs and alcohol.

Eadie’s efforts at painting a picture of detachment is effective. He gives a clear impression of characters unable to engage meaningfully, but although we are able to relate them with some familiarity to our lived communities, they struggle to evoke empathy or arouse much interest. The fact that they are privileged enough to live a lifestyle that includes no work but a lot of debauchery, prevents us from feeling for them or for dramatic tension to build sufficiently. Not very much seems to be at risk. Some attention is paid on sexual abuse in a couple of the boys’ histories, but those scenes feel like afterthoughts, even if they are clearly well-intentioned.

The pace of the show is exceedingly languid. Much of the acting seems to be based in “real time”, which often comes across too slow for the audience. Dominic Witkop’s performance is slightly too internalised, but his focus and commitment is strong. His character Lance is by far the most convincing one, and the care and measuredness at which he attacks his part is laudable, but introducing a greater sense of vigour would allow him to connect better. Arthur is played by Aaron Nilan who lacks the enigmatic quality required by the script, but his less restrained performance in the second act adds much needed energy and animation to the stage.

Unlike its characters, Arthur’s Place has a purpose. It discusses our social problems, which is one of the most important functions of theatre, but while it tries to push the envelope with its exaggerated use of profanity, more conviction is needed to advance its central message. We do not expect plays to give us solutions, but when art is able to make us care about our worlds, it becomes indispensable.