Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jul 3 – Aug 15, 2015
Playwright: Shaun McKenna
Director: Nicole Buffoni
Cast: Gael Ballantyne, Penny Cook, Sharon Flanagan, Lisa Gormley, Benjamin Hoetjes, Daniel Mitchell
Image by Clare Hawley
Shaun McKenna’s Ladies In Lavender is a 2012 stage adaptation of an original short story from 1908, and a more well-known 2004 film. It is a gentle story, with characters of an advanced age taking centre stage, allowing us to take a look at the experience of growing old and learning about a time in life that most of us will arrive at. Janet and Ursula are sisters in an English country town, lonely and isolated, but not without a zest for life and a sense of humour. We observe the nature of desire for the elderly, and consider the differences and similarities between young and old, when dealing with infatuations and relationships in general.
Direction of the piece by Nicole Buffoni is charming and lighthearted, with a respectful attitude towards its senior characters that encourages us to look at them with more complexity than we might usually do. The show is slightly low in energy, with a languid tone that can seem repetitive, but its personalities are endearing, and we follow their journeys with interest. Buffoni makes good use of the text to create a show that is entertaining at many points, although not all moments feel authentic within a presentation style that tends to be fairly surface. Both leading ladies display good commitment on stage, but we require greater dynamism and depth from their performances in order for the production to be more emotionally affecting.
Supporting actors Gael Ballantyne and Daniel Mitchell provide eccentric colour, and both deliver consistent waves of laughter with accomplished comedic skills, keeping us amused and delighted. Benjamin Hoetjes plays Andre, a young man who finds himself stranded and unwittingly, the instigator of some domestic destabilisation. Hoetjes has a convincing innocence that is crucial to the plot’s effectiveness, and his charismatic effervescence helps us understand the affections of the women around him. The actor’s abilities on the violin cannot go unremarked, as the kind of versatility he possesses as a multi-faceted performer is quite extraordinary.
There is something too quiet and mild about this production. We long to witness the passions inferred in the story, but they are portrayed too subdued. Life develops differently for each individual, and every person’s place in the world is never replicated, but one hopes that all who pass through this existence catches glimpses of the many highs it offers. At the theatre too, we want to come in contact with amplified realities and the feelings that come along with them. Ladies In Lavender is essentially about celebrating life and mortality, and we should remember to be overjoyed at being part of it all.