Review: Pvt. Wars (Dudley St Productions)

dudleystVenue: Old Fitz Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 17 – Apr 5, 2015
Writer: James McLure
Director: Mark Lee
Cast: Michael Booth, Thomas Campbell, Tom Oakley
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
In James McLure’s Pvt. Wars we visit three injured soldiers at a rehabilitation facility. The play was first staged in 1979, but there is no clear indication of the time at which the action takes place. It could be the aftermath of any war, because the ramifications of sending young people to battle never seem to change. Some return victorious, but many end up dead or damaged. It is not a fiercely anti-war piece, but McLure’s writing does place focus on these individuals’ physical and psychological afflictions. Comedy is created from the interplay of their mental dysfunctions, as well as from the tensions derived from their divergent social classes and from the points of dissent, and assent, as cohabitants of the hospital.

Direction of the work by Mark Lee is gentle and elegant. The resultant work is funny, but its laughter comes naturally from the honest exploration of characters, rather than it being a desperate priority. The show is about trauma, but it is kept light-hearted by an evasive masculine approach to pain. The three men come face to face with each other’s terror, but they skirt around the issues, rarely able to address them directly.

Michael Booth plays Silvio, the overcompensating alpha male who brings energy and a sense of danger to the stage. The actor appears to be distracted at several points, but his timing is effective nonetheless, and the sense of barely hidden distress and anxiety he introduces, is a significant contributor to the dynamic pace of the show. The more sophisticated Natwick is performed by Thomas Campbell, an actor with a disarmingly sensitive presence that provides an air of authenticity to proceedings. His very regular sequences of letter-writing to Natwick’s mother is let down by poor sound design, but his warmth is an inviting quality that we connect well with. Tom Oakley’s character Gately sits centre stage for virtually the entire duration, repairing an old radio. He is perennially hopeful, but struggles every day to find direction and meaning. Oakley’s portrayal resists theatrical gesticulation and embellishment, but conveys that confused determination beautifully, with a confident and touching simplicity.

The play comes to a conclusion that intends to be poignant, but a sudden loss of clarity interferes. The story surprises us at the end when it takes an abstract and abrupt turn, leaving us to our own beliefs about war, soldiers and manhood. It does not make any persuasive arguments to change our political affiliations, and its social commentary is subtle. Perhaps all it requires is for us to remember that individual lives are affected, often dramatically, while we become increasingly numbed by headlines that are no longer able to occupy more than a few moments each morning.

Review: Lobby Hero (Dudley St Productions)

lobbyheroVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Jul 8 – 26, 2014
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Director: Kevin Jackson
Cast: Tom Oakley, Dorian Nkono, Shari Sebbens, Jeremy Waters
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero is about morals, honour and lies. The play features two security guards and two police officers, and through the instability of their friend-foe relationships, it deals with human mistakes, telling the truth, and facing consequences. Kevin Jackson’s direction reveals a thorough enjoyment of words and their nuances. His work is almost entirely focused on the cast, ensuring that Lonergan’s writing is explored exhaustively in voice and movement, which results in a story told with precision and impressive detail.

The actors are strong, but in divergent ways. Jackson ensures that their performances are authentic, and gives them the freedom to portray each character to their best abilities. Jeremy Waters as Bill defines the term “show stealing”. His presence is commanding, and his work is wild and completely rambunctious. Waters is incredibly impressive and possibly faultless as the ignorantly immoral cop, and the vibrance he brings to the stage is irresistible. Dorian Nkono is an excellent comic. He plays William with hilarious irony, and delivers many moments of laughter. His timing is flawless, and his creative embellishments with speech and physicality are quite entrancing.

The two Bills are big characters played by flamboyant actors, and they are magnificent. The play however, relies on two other characters to drive home its central message. Jeff and Dawn are key to providing gravity to the work but are unfortunately often eclipsed on this stage. Tom Oakley accurately embodies the aimlessness and innocence of Jeff, but his performance is often thrown off balance by his colleagues. There is a great deal of emotional authenticity to his work, but he sometimes pitches at too subtle a level. Dawn is played by Shari Sebbens whose strengths as a dramatic actor are unquestionably alluring, but they outweigh her comedic talents. Sebben’s interpretation of her character is a truthful one, but she misses opportunities of levity that would endear her further with her audience. More light would create more contrast, so that the weightier portions of her narrative would resonate stronger.

Visual design is kept at a minimum. Costumes add to characterisations, but set and lights are merely functional. Sound design provides some effective cues to entrances, but it is also distracting at times. Some of the music choices are unsuitable, creating unnecessary discord with the action on stage. We hear the story clearly in Lobby Hero, but its moral is not articulated loud enough. More memorable are its actors and their craft. Shows are often about stars, and on this occasion, the show stealers are victorious and they have escaped scot free.