Review: Vice (Emu Productions)

emuproductionsVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 21 – May 9, 2015
Playwright: Melvyn Morrow
Director: Elaine Hudson
Cast: Margi De Ferranti, Jonathan Deves, Roger Gimblett, Christopher Hamilton, Jess Loudon, Benjamin McCann

Theatre review
Writing a play about hot topics of the day is a delicate operation. Reiterating dominant schools of thought without adding new perspectives will make the work seem lightweight and redundant, but proffering alternative ideas can be dangerous, especially when the issue is a sensitive one. Melvyn Morrow’s Vice joins the very contemporary discussion on the sexual assault of children by authority figures in religious institutions. We meet Jasper, a manipulative eighteen year-old who uses his burgeoning sexuality as currency, and the guardians at his affluent high school who exploit their custodial positions over students in their care. The illusion of consent that exists between people in hierarchical organisations become further complicated by the issue of age. Society acknowledges a certain legal age where people become adults, but within the paradigm of school and family, we believe in a sacred sense of protection that must prevail for all our daughters and sons. Morrow writes with an ambiguity that inspires thought, and although unlikely to change anyone’s moral position, his story opens up points in a hackneyed argument that may have been previously overlooked. The play’s structure is engaging and tight, with character transformations and edgy dialogue that provide drama and intellectual stimulation.

Direction by Elaine Hudson is punchy and passionate, and although personalities are not always convincing, their narratives are conveyed with enough clarity so that the plot retains its complexities without losing too much coherence. Morrow’s script is often witty, but comedy is not handled well in the production. The cast is under-rehearsed with an inordinate frequency of actors tripping over lines, and several key roles are approached with insufficient depth, resulting in emotions that lack accuracy. The play is situated in modern day Sydney, but its speech emulates an artificial upper class affectation that seems to have been awkwardly derived from mid twentieth century English film and television, that can occasionally cause a troubling dislocation of space and time. On a brighter note, all performances are energetic, with an enjoyable urgency that holds our attention. Playing Olivia Fox is Jess Loudon who attacks with conviction and a charming boldness. Her part is simpler than the other darker characters, but Loudon brings nuance and texture to create a presence on stage that the audience can relate to.

Societal progression involves the dismantlement of old organisations that have proven themselves contrary to democratic ideologies. The pervasiveness and influence of religion in our lives run thorough and broad. Many profit from archaic power structures, and are determined to sustain them by deceptive and cowardly means. The rich and powerful choose a status quo that requires poverty and powerlessness to exist, so resistance and change can only occur at snail place (if at all). Communities are divided and conquered by a 1% of humanity, that insist we continue to participate, knowingly and unconsciously, in all the rituals of daily life that perpetuate our own oppression, in ignorance and isolation. Only when we find an appetite for destruction big enough and brave enough, that revolution can happen. There is a gentle flame in Vice that can inspire, and perhaps provide a spark that can lead to a solution for these disturbing circumstances that we should all be very concerned about.