Review: The Director (Active Theatre Productions)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Oct 25 – Nov 10, 2018
Playwright: Nancy Hasty
Director: Simon Doctor
Cast: Josephine Bloom, Simon Doctor, Sarah Greenwood, Emilia Hristov, Brayden Palmer, Alex Rowe

Theatre review
Annie has written a play and wants Peter to direct it, even though Peter has become a pariah of the theatre industry, currently relegated to the position of janitor at a drama school. We soon find out that his ostracism is well founded, as his creative process unravels a series of unethical strategies that cause appalling harm to his team of actors. Nancy Hasty’s The Director talks about the tricky negotiations of boundaries in artistic ventures, especially when collaborative parties are involved, all wishing to invent new paradigms with their expressions. Some of the play’s ideas are exciting, with quite amusing dialogue, but its plot quickly becomes predictable, as the story begins to take on a repetitive configuration.

Simon Doctor directs the production, and stars in it as Peter, the titular director of the show within a show, for a fascinating confluence of truth and fiction. Doctor is at least adequate as director, but as actor, his abilities are breathtakingly poor, which delivers results that are quite surprising. Actors in the play struggle with their director Peter because of his questionable methods, whilst in our real life, we witness the cast going through a parallel struggle, having to find ways to accommodate Doctor’s sorely deficient acting sharing their stage. It is obvious however, that even though our cast is up against it, they are not in an adversarial relationship with their director/leading man. In fact, they are considerate and generous, proving able to overcome a significant hurdle, and eventually emerging with dignity intact. Actor Alex Rowe is particularly memorable as John, making the right decision to play up the comedy of the piece, to help his audience through the show, so that we feel secure about laughing with, and not laughing at, the performance.

The work of Jerzy Grotowski is referenced frequently in The Director, to represent a concept of unconventionality in the art of theatre making. Peter wishes his work to go against the established, which in his mind, requires an essential redefinition of the audience’s passivity. In some ways, we see these principles manifest in the current production. As actor, Simon Doctor unnerves us, and intentionally or not, he disallows us to engage with the show on the level of a regular dramatic experience. We hear Nancy Hasty’s writing unfold, but observe metatheatre taking place, one that thoroughly interrogates our position as viewer. We should not expect to be spoon fed on every occasion, but when left to our own devices, how we approach an oddity reveals so much of who we are, and how we function as part of this community’s artistic landscape.