Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 4 – Oct 4, 2015
Playwright: Jane Bodie
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Aaron Glenane, Tom O’Sullivan, Emma Palmer, Gabrielle Scawthorn
Image by Robert Catto
Ride & Fourplay are two plays by Jane Bodie about male-female relationships in Australia today. Bodie’s writing is obsessed with the mundanity and ordinariness of life, and where most writers choose to romanticise and dramatise those boy-meets-girl stories, these versions are in no rush to make their point. They linger and indulge in moments to let us observe human dynamics, and to analyse the inner workings of our emotions. As a result, Bodie’s are scripts that probably hold more value for performers than they do for audiences. Under Anthony Skuse’s direction, emphasis is placed squarely on how the cast brings life to the words. Other theatrics are kept to a minimum, and at a three hour running time, our stamina and patience for brooding reflections are thoroughly tested. Although its characters are not in any way exotic, we do not necessarily find it easy to relate to their many concerns. They are too much like us, and our own foibles fail to appear fascinating when portrayed in such a plain and direct manner.
All four actors are however, impressive. They take the opportunity to explore the painstaking naturalism, and achieve a great deal of authenticity with the material. They do their best to engage without compromising the style of the production, and even though results are ultimately underwhelming, there are many points of frisson that showcase their abilities. Tom O’Sullivan and Gabrielle Scawthorn display extraordinary emotional vulnerability that provide interesting dimensions to their narratives. Their portrayals are detailed studies of the subtle ways we think and act in response to the people around us who matter. Emma Palmer is captivating in Ride, with a broken heart and a lost soul. We recognise the ordeal she goes through, and admire the actor’s thoroughness at understanding her role’s psychology and all that is required to make Elizabeth complex and true. Aaron Glenane plays Jack, a slightly unusual man with a warm charm that helps us forgive his misdeeds. Glenane has the challenging task of turning what is frankly an outrageous circumstance into one that is endearing and uplifting. It is an unpleasant plot twist that he has to deliver, but he does so convincingly.
The production is free of frills, but ambience is beautifully manufactured by its team of designers. Alistair Wallace’s sound and Christopher Page’s lights rarely steal our attention but the mood in the theatre is consistently rich with sentimentality and a gentle electricity, derived from a very sensitive approach to the show’s quiet aesthetics. Hugh O’Connor’s big raked platform facilitates an intimacy that results from giving the actors no place to hide, doggedly exposing their every flinch and gesture. The vast space around them however, causes obvious problems with acoustics, even though the overall vista is a very satisfying one.
It is in our nature to love and be loved, but we do not need to think only in terms of the (in this case) girl-boy dynamic. Love takes many forms, yet we spend an inordinate amount of time and effort in the pursuit of things like romance, marriage, fidelity, and sex. We are drawn in by its terribly seductive power; it is a mysterious libido that scientists and philosophers have tried to explain for centuries, but it is a riddle that refuses to be solved. It is an uncontrollable force that goes round and round, and even though its chief motive is pleasure, its increasingly predictable manifestations can sometimes land us in scarce more than weariness.