Review: Leaves (Théâtre Excentrique / Emu Productions)

theatreexcentriqueVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 18 – 29, 2014
Playwright: Steve McGrath
Director: Markus Weber
Cast: Martin Ashley Jones, Steve McGrath, Gerry Sont

Theatre review
Three men from privileged backgrounds are turning fifty, and they head out for a camping trip to commemorate the occasion. It seems that their mid-life crises have not subsided, and they struggle to find meaning and fulfillment in spite of having successful careers as a psycho therapist, a barrister, and a real estate agent. Steve McGrath’s script includes many interesting elements that keep the plot layered and unpredictable, with a peculiar sense of humour that gives it an air of whimsy. Some of the jokes are corny, and the overall structure of the play is slightly inelegant, but McGrath’s themes of time, mortality, and the quest for enlightenment are contextualised with enough creativity for Leaves to sustain interest.

Like one of the presenting companies’ names, direction of the work by Markus Weber is eccentric. The production is vibrant, often with a frenzied, almost childlike energy that translates passionately, but there is a general lack of focus that can make narrative details hard to follow. Visual design is adventurous and very colourful, but lighting cues tend to be haphazard and poorly timed (or the show might have been suffering from technical troubles on the night of review). The cast is committed, especially Gerry Sont in the role of Chas, the realtor, who drives the action with a blend of exuberance and frailty that characterises the dilemma being explored. Each actor possesses a degree of authenticity, and they manufacture a lively and noisy atmosphere, but their chemistry is not always convincing. They seem to understand their own parts well, but are detached from the others. Similarly, the play struggles to find coherence, although its philosophy does manage to come across surprisingly clear.

Growing older is no walk in the park for the men in Leaves, and perhaps for men everywhere. There is an interesting link between masculinity and the ageing process, where a shedding of exteriors becomes almost inevitable, and the exposure of weaknesses presents an unexpected challenge. Death for the fifty year-old is a conflicting concept, working as a reminder of the brevity of life, yet bringing to attention, the vulnerability of the body. The remaining years are short, but also long, and it is with a zestful maturity that one can navigate the autumn of life and turn it into days of wine and roses.

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