Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Sep 10 – 27, 2014
Playwright: Michael Gow
Director: James Beach
Cast: Pippa Grandison, Andrew Henry
Image by Kurt Sneddon
Making sense of humanity requires that we look at history. History gives us meaning and inspiration, it tells us how we should progress. The same follows for the concept of nationhood. The conceit of nations is a discussion about identity in relation to histories. Australia is thought of by many as a derivation of sorts. Its European settlement and ancestry has shaped its public image into one that is invariably referential. It constantly negates its first cultures and its recent migrations, to place emphasis on its ties with the European continent. We are spurned, forgotten and disparaged, yet we are desperate, supplicant and nostalgic. We define ourselves in European terms, and our score cards are created in their image. We wait for acceptance and approval like abandoned babies suffering from developmental retardation. We live in the shadows of parents who no longer remember our birth.
Douglas sacrifices every dollar on flights to Europe. He seeks to rekindle a week long romance with Barbara who had visited Australia briefly. Douglas believes that his life would be perfect if he wins her over. Barbara is perplexed that a flippant moment from the past has returned to haunt her. Douglas is surprised by her reaction and says repeatedly that he would leave, but misses every train. Michael Gow’s script is a comical love story, and a meditation on Australian whiteness. It examines tenuous connections with a motherland, and the existential angst of the castaway. James Beach’s direction is thoughtful and gentle. The duplicitous nature of the narrative is conveyed successfully, and the minimalism of his staging creates a tenderness that reflects Douglas’ internal complexion. There is a languidness that detracts from humour in the early scenes, but the resulting show is an elegant one that speaks intelligently, with an openness that welcomes interpretation.
Pippa Grandison is suitably continental in her approach. She succeeds in portraying the foreignness of Barbara, and her conscious efforts at creating a sense of exotic otherness is well considered and entertaining. Barbara is a stage actor, and Grandison could benefit from playing up her theatricality further, especially in the early segments where more energy could be put into the comedy of the characters’ encounters. Aussie country boy Douglas is played by Andrew Henry who uses just enough stereotyped conventionality to depict cultural relevance, but more appealing is the authentic naiveté he brings to the role. Henry’s work is confidently simple, which ensures that small gestures speak volumes, and dialogue is allowed to resonate. It must also be noted that his performance of intoxication at the play’s conclusion is completely delightful.
Romance provides spice to life. We long for attention and adoration to be reciprocated, so that some kind of affirmation can be established, but that attainment is only temporarily satisfactory, for romance is a need that can never be sated. As long as we keep thinking of ourselves as a chip off the old block, or as the apple that has fallen a little too far from the tree, we will forever be an inferior echo that fails to be its own self determining entity. There is much to love about our own place on earth. We need to acknowledge our histories but we need to make the best of the here and now, wherever we may be.