Review: Amanda (Old Monk Productions)

oldmonkVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), May 13 – 18, 2014
Playwright: Mark Langham
Director: Mark Langham
Actors: Amylea Griffin, Paul Armstrong, Elizabeth Macgregor

Theatre review
Amanda is a new play that asks questions the way an inquisitive small child would. Its persistent wonderment inspires thoughts and ideas that range from the familiar and enduring, to fresh and complex ones that we rarely encounter outside of the world of art. Mark Langham is a brave writer who dares to explore deep and dark recesses of the human condition, even when there is no guaranteed satisfaction or indeed, conclusion. Langham’s approach is philosophical, but his creativity for the stage is savvy and accomplished. Amanda is an intriguing work, with interesting characters that hold our attention. Their provocative lives are richly imagined, and thoroughly engaging.

The protagonist Amanda is a childlike woman, played by Amylea Griffin who brings a necessary gravity to a performance that is intense and energetic. It is noteworthy that the character is not portrayed with weakness even though her story is one of victimhood and injustice. Griffin’s sense of defiance is an important and beautiful ingredient to her work, but there is a lack of levity to her delivery that could have helped craft a more dimensioned characterisation. Paul Armstrong takes on a trio of personalities with good variation and conviction. The actor’s relaxed nature contrasts well with his co-players’ sense of severity, but is also able to inject power and dynamism when required. Elizabeth Macgregor’s characters are colourful and deliciously odd, but her interpretations tend to be fairly subdued. Although missing the opportunity to create something quite eccentric, Macgregor’s portrayals are effective, and sensitive to the plot’s progression.

Langham’s direction does not shy away from expressive dramatics that create a sumptuous texture in the moody script, but the performers’ inconsistent group chemistry is an issue. Virtually every scene involves the actors in collaboration, but they are not always in tune. Early scenes seem to work better, but as complexities accrue, the work starts to lose its persuasiveness. The plot evolves into greater abstraction, with actors seeming to proffer incongruous perspectives of the text, and decipherment becomes difficult.

Amanda might be challenging, but it is not without pleasures. The play is full of intellectual stimulants, and the writer’s lines are pointedly witty. Directing one’s own script is a tall order. Langham tends to place too much trust on the autonomy of his words, but he does an admirable job of materialising his concepts and presenting a show that communicates on emotional and cerebral levels.