Belvoir St Theatre (downstairs)
The Only Child
Reviewed October 7, 2009
Simon Stone seems to have a knack for eliciting truthful performances – or maybe in The Promise and The Only Child he was just blessed with good actors. In his latest, he has the good fortune to have worked with his entire cast previously, and all of them together previously on The Hayloft Project’s production of 3xSisters. Stone is also an actor himself.
Tom Wren and Shelly Lauman are Alfred and Rita, an estranged husband and wife who are brought together after a three month hiatus by the disappearance of their child, the lame little Eyolf; Anne-Louise Sarks is Alfred’s sister Asta, whose close relationship to her brother and Eyolf commit her to the scene – while her hopelessly devoted would-be suitor Henrik (Gareth Davies) fusses around the fringes, thoroughly annoying everyone, without being quite able to cut himself loose.
The piece was devised in rehearsals, with the cast feeding off the original characters of Ibsen’s Little Eyolf, and Henning and Stone responding with scenes. The result takes its emotional preoccupations with sex and death from Ibsen, douses the grieving couple in the flames of anger and resentment, jealousy – before plunging them into the cold depths of grief, only to wring them dry and begin all over again.
Immobilised by their emotions after learning of Eyolf’s death, the four characters seem inescapably chained to the single set of the production, a bathroom. Waterlogged with paternal guilt, Alfred is unable to leave the bath for more than a few minutes at a time.
The collective rendition of grief – from Wren, to Stone’s direction, the writing, the almost constantly pouring shower faucet, the lighting, and the music – is breathtakingly truthful. It’s also really funny, with equal parts of vitriol, hysterical humour and absurd irony counterbalancing the pain. The stage crackles with emotional energy. The shower weeps like a wound that won’t heal.
In the midst of it all, Gareth Davies pulls off a quiet coup, with his bumbling, socially inept, Henrik. The last to arrive on the scene, a subject of comic relief throughout – at the most inappropriate or unlikely moments – he somehow manages to be the first to depart with his dignity intact. His kindness and generosity provide a counterpoint to the self-involved torments of his cell-mates.
Gritting my teeth in tension, rocking with laughter and transfixed all the while, it was one of those nights at the theatre when magic is in the air.
SBW Stables Theatre
References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot
Reviewed October 2, 2009
From the writer of The Motorcycle Diaries, Jose Rivera, References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot is a sizzling story about love, lust and the conflicts of war.
Gabriela (Olivia Stambouliah) is a young army wife waiting on the edge of the desert with a cat, a young neighbour and the moon for company, dreaming of her husband, Benito’s (Stephen Multari) return.
Lying under the night sky, the moon, (Lani John Tupu), clad in a dirty suit, with a dry sense humour serenades Gabriela, while at the same time, her cat (Taryn Brine) and a coyote (iOTA) pursue their own parallel love interest.
Throw in an eighteen year old Martin (Arka Das), who is desperately in love with Gabriela and you have the ingredients of a sensual and poetic production.
With the dynamic, yet bruising encounter between Gabriela and Benito, her soldier husband, whose brief return home has him realising his lover has been transformed into a stranger by time and hardship, the tightly cast play takes the audience on a lyrical journey that explores themes of war, romance and the power of the imagination.
With a seductive moon and the coyote and the cat’s pugnacious love banter and exploration of forbidden love, as well as Gabriela and Martin’s steamy affair, References is a sexually charged and energetic performance that cleverly combines music, poetry and humour.
Ladled with sharp dialogue and sensual lyrics, References is a fascinating study in expressiveness, love and rejection. With strong performances from the actors, the play takes you on a journey into the lonely South American desert and will leave you looking at the moon in a completely different light.