Review: Brother Daniel (TAP Gallery)

brotherdanielVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 24 – Oct 5, 2014
Playwright: James Balian
Director: Travis Green
Cast: Vincent Andriano, David Attrill, Mel Dodge, Jeannie Gee, Adam Hatzimanolis, Errol Henderson, Richard Hilliar, Naomi Livingstone
Image by Mark Banks

Theatre review
James Balian’s Brother Daniel discusses the concepts of heroism and revolution. His work is dense and intellectual, but the ideas that he introduces into the play are vibrantly refreshing. We are made to examine our relationship with heroes, and that incessant need to turn narratives into tales of inspiration and motivation with headlining objects of worship. We elevate people into positions of sainthood and martyrdom, by obliterating the very qualities that bind us as the human race. We have a need to make real our abstract ideals so that aspirations can be formed and individuals or groups can find ways to progress. The betterment of society requires epitomes, but those examples of perfection can only exist in our imagination. Daniel is a legend in prison, and a revolution is taking place outside. The crowds are moved by the memory of Daniel’s legacy, but we are in his cell, witnessing an iconoclasm and the deconstruction of a national hero.

Although Travis Green manages to direct the play with an appropriate severity, there is a stasis to his style that prevents sufficient dramatic effect from taking shape on the stage. Balian’s wordy script proves a challenge, and the heavy reliance on dialogue with very minimal visual inventiveness is challenging for its audience. We need to understand the writing not only through our ears, but when in the theatrical space, our other faculties have to be equally addressed. It is noteworthy that sound design is a well considered element, efficiently adding a foreboding dimension to the atmosphere.

The cast is a strong one, bringing confident presence and polish to the production. Daniel is played by the effortlessly enigmatic Adam Hatzimanolis whose committed performance grounds the show. His interpretation of the personality’s ambiguity is beautifully presented, and he adds to his scenes, a powerful intensity that leaves an excellent impression. The play features several roles that feel too surface, mainly due to their brief stage time, but Daniel is dimensioned and unpredictable, with a depth that is crucial for a central character.

We are not told where the action takes place, but our minds go to the current demonstrations in Hong Kong, where civilians are taking to the streets in protest of their totalitarian government. Revolution is bold, and Brother Daniel is at heart, a bold piece of writing, but what transpires on stage needs an approach closer to anarchy.