Friday, August 7, 2009

Thursday's Child and thoughts on theatre

Theatre Royal, Thursday July 30 2009
Charles Cousins, Belinda Hoare, James Lugton, Brendon McDonall, Janice McGavin, Kate Worsley
Company: Monkey Baa, Director: Sandra Eldridge

I recently saw a production of Thursday’s Child, a stage adaption of the immensely popular novel by Sonya Hartnett by the company Monkey Baa. Directed by Sandra Eldridge, the play is set between the two world wars, rolling into the Great Depression. It tells the story of a poor but honest family as they weather their seemingly endless run of calamity. The characters include a son who lives below the ground, digging, seen rarely and rejected by all but his loving family.

It is difficult for me to write negatively about a performance because I really don’t feel fair ‘canning’ a show. It would be too easy for me in the audience to undermine the enormous amount of energy and work invested by committed actors and company. But to not make a call on a show may raise the ire of other theatre-goers. Is it a betrayal of fellow audience-members, or am I doing the production a disservice by not offering critical feedback?

Possibly my misgivings about Thursday’s Child came from the adaption of the novel. Not that it was unfaithful, as is often a criticism, as without having read the book I cannot make that judgement. More, that it seemed to contain too much. The story is complex and intricate in its explanation of the characters’ personalities, such as Da’s general detachment, and Devon’s animosity to the villain, Mr Cable. So much time is spent in relaying the detail that it left little space for dramatic development or finesse in the delivery of the narrative.

The cast really did work together well given the weight of the content they had to convey and if at times lines were delivered without a great deal of meaning, it may have just been due to the need to get it all knocked over in the time they had. For the performance was too long and, with some tender editing, the actors could have been more attentive to their characters. Brendon McDonall and Kate Worsley managed to execute some speedy costume and role changes, while Janice McGavin as Harper did a good job of progressing through the years from age six to twelve without so much as an extra bobby pin to get her through until she graduated to her pair of high heels.

Both the book and theatre adaption of Thursday’s Child are aimed at young adults. I fear the production would have tested their patience, running at nearly an hour and a half without an interval. This is not to question a young person’s ability to concentrate that long, but rather the production’s capacity to grip their attention for the duration. It is so good to see literature adapted to theatre for young adults, but it is a big responsibility for the company. As a friend noted to me after the show, the theatre that teenagers watch now may win them or lose them for life.

Yet, given the exposure to highly sophisticated mediums that your average child now enjoys, it is important that theatre not pretend to be something it is not. Therefore, I think it is so important for young people to experience performance that is intelligent and engaging, utterly three dimensional and delivered in scenes and acts, rather than an assault of second-long jump cuts.

I really did enjoy Thursday’s Child. I think it is a production that needs more and bolder work on the script and the staging. But the soundtrack was a beautiful collection of music and sounds that took us into the bush and on an emotional journey.

I will always take my hat off to theatre companies, simply because they are doing it. They are putting stories onto the stage, they are giving work to actors, lighting and set designers and they are giving audiences a reason to venture out of their homes and away from the sedation of the television. This Pollyanna in the audience was happy to spend the evening with Thursday’s Child and hopes to get the chance to see it again, in a new improved version. Don’t give up Monkey Baa, you are on your way.

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