Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 24 – Jul 5, 2014
Playwright: Neil LaBute
Collaborating directors: Samantha Young, Andrew Wilson, Peter Mountlord, Alistair Wallace
Cast: Rebecca Martin, Patrick Magee
Image by Katy Green Loughrey
This is a love story that is not particularly romantic. It is however, written with a great sense of truth, and is reflective of real experiences in our love lives. Yes, there is some sweetness, but, like in life, the relationship being explored is fraught with issues. We are refused the clichéd and comforting notion of a love that fixes everything. Instead, what Neil LaBute discusses is the inherent difficulties, and there are many of them, when two people get together. The themes in The Mercy Seat are innumerable. Through Abby and Ben, we observe the often ugly complexities of love, relationships and human nature. Theatre does something noble, when it provides difficult revelations.
The production is directed well. Emphasis is placed on the narrative, and it is clear that work has been put into bringing nuances to light. The writing’s intrigue and its structural quirks are materialised beautifully. The unorthodox characters are allowed to be challenging, always fluctuating between likeable and objectionable. The story is told without convenient heroes and villains, but it communicates successfully, probably because of the way its honesty speaks closely to our deepest feelings. We understand Abby and Ben because their fears are so fundamental and intimate, they leave us nowhere to hide.
Rebecca Martin as Abby is spirited and flashy. The actor is a determined entertainer, and never fails to grab our attention. There is considerable bravery in her work. We feel Martin’s heart on her sleeve, and she portrays a character with very clear intentions and emotions, conveying an internal journey that is complicated, yet coherent and recognisable. The role of Ben is played by Patrick Magee, whose comic timing is impeccable. He delivers the subtle and dark comedy with a gentle assuredness, careful to prevent funny moments from obfuscating his impressively earnest characterisation. Magee is a dynamic performer, and the enthusiasm at which he oscillates light and shade is thoroughly enjoyable. Both actors are able to deliver a wide range of tone and emotion, but both share a common lack in authenticity when playing sadness. A reason could be the speed and energy at which their performance is pitched. The characters go through very drastic alterations in mood, which is terribly exciting to watch, but evidently difficult to embody. Even though the actors have excellent chemistry throughout the piece, they do not muster up a convincing sexual energy which is important to their tale.
We sometimes cry at the theatre, but those tears are usually shed for the people on stage or for the scenarios that we witness. Seldom do we react emotionally for our own circumstances that a work recalls. The Mercy Seat strikes a chord when you least expect it. The show ends with a little pessimism, along with some idealism. How we choose to proceed is incumbent upon ourselves.