Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 12 – Mar 4, 2016
Playwright: Samuel D. Hunter
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Keith Agius, Chloe Bayliss, Alex Beauman, Meredith Penman, Hannah Waterman
There is no question more fundamental than to consider why it is that we choose to live. In Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale, a kind of suicidal impulse is explored, but the dramatic gesture is not a sudden one. Alan and Charlie let themselves waste away by withdrawing from the very living of life, allowing their bodies to approach certain and hastened death. The writing is powerful, poignant and sensitive, with a clever plot structure to fascinate and to provide plentiful food for thought.
Direction of the work by Shane Anthony is replete with tenderness and compassion, eager for us to find points of identification with its quirky characters. The show needs a more pronounced sense of humour for its overall emotional arc to make a greater impact, but its effect is nonetheless strong. Anthony’s use of space is dynamic and thoughtful, beautifully aided by Charlie Davis’ very accomplished and evocative set design.
Performances are well-rehearsed, with excellent chemistry to be found, but character interpretations can at times tend to be too straightforward. Keith Agius brings a valuable vibrancy to Charlie’s sad story, and although his portrayal of the role’s profound sorrow is not always convincing, we achieve a thorough understanding of his mind and spirit, and it is the actor’s work that provides his audience with many of the show’s reflective and meaningful moments. Also moving is Hannah Waterman as Mary, whose life struggles are immediately evident in spite of her brief stage time. Waterman’s approach brings a surprising complexity that makes her part the most authentic and empathetic of the group.
In The Whale, Charlie is crippled by regret and heartache. We watch him go through immense suffering, and although we appreciate the difficulties he faces, the play allows us to see the possibilities of a better life that is only a hair away. It is a lesson that we can all learn; about choice, strength and hope. Charlie might be an abomination to many, especially to himself, but to those of us who know his parable, he will serve as a reminder on our darker days, for a long time to come.