Review: The Book Club (Ensemble Theatre)

ensembleVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Aug 26 – Oct 3, 2015
Playwright: Roger Hall (adapted by Rodney Fisher)
Director: Rodney Fisher
Cast: Amanda Muggleton
Image by Tom Blunt

Theatre review (of a preview performance)
The Book Club by Roger Hall takes a light-hearted look at the follies of a middle aged, middle class Australian woman, who without the stresses of a career or financial uncertainty, occupies her time by indulging in love affairs with books and sex. It is a joyful life, and while her story is mostly inconsequential, it does offer a refreshing way of looking at marriage in contemporary times. Traditional notions of monogamy and fidelity persist, but what actually happens in secret is anybody’s guess. Husbands and books are entirely different things but the effort required to remain faithful to either, can be equally onerous under certain circumstances.

Hall’s script has several disparate focuses, and runs at approximately 90 minutes, which is a longer duration than most monologues can sustain. This production by director Rodney Fisher struggles to establish a comfortable plot trajectory, and the play takes a lot of time before getting to the crux of its own existence, but it is fortunately able to deliver more than a few laughs along the way to keep us entertained. Star of the show Amanda Muggleton is an exuberant and affable presence as Deb, with a natural innate ability to charm as the sole performer of the piece, but on the occasion of this final preview before opening night, it is clear that further rehearsal time is required. In sections of the play where the actor is confident, the rhythms and nuances she creates are completely delightful, but in her many unsure moments, tensions are lost and concentration proves challenging. There were 5 requests for line prompts, which demonstrate quite obviously the prematurity of the work, and we are prevented from engaging with the show at any valuable depth.

Marriage and art are constantly under scrutiny. There is an idea of success that we apply not only from within but that we also invite from the public. Our social nature means that we crave approval for the things we do, no matter how personal, and we want things to always work out. When writing a book, the process can be intensely insular, but ultimately, the finished product goes out into the big wide world, and the author opens themselves to criticisms of all kinds. In a marriage, a couple works in private to find harmony and happiness together, and then present to society the best image of unity they can muster. Not every book will be deemed a success, and not every day in married life is perfect, but it is in the doing, not the accolades, that true meaning is found, successful or not.