Preview: Studio Theatre, Mount Nelson
10 February 2010
by Janet Upcher
What is it that humans yearn for? What drives us on and what completes us?
This innovative musical drama, a thought-provoking series of interwoven narratives linked by the music and lyrics of Craig M. Wood and Nicholas King, suggests we’re all involved in a constant quest for the perfect relationship and a sense of eternity. Love seems a circular, often frustrating dance where misunderstandings and rejections occur and time mocks us with our own transience and separateness.
It is the tenderness, and the fragility of certain moments between couples that holds the audience captive, but perhaps in this production, the most poignant, engaging relationship is the one between a son and his dying father, a relationship which underscores the permanence of love and suggests (although none too subtly) a notion of eternity and time’s circularity. Based on a short story, ‘A Perfect Circle’, by Peter Symons, this theatre piece is sensitively acted and beautifully sung by the son (Scott Farrow). I feel though that the short story understated its affirmation of enduring love, thus managing to avoid the contrivance of the theatrical and musical resolution where the deceased mother (Sarah Jones) reappears as an angelic vision and is joined by a heavenly choir comprising the entire cast singing ‘Ave Maria’, a comforting intimation of immortality for the dying father in his transition to an afterlife.
Just as there are many gaps on any quest for a perfect circle, there are a few ‘holes’ in this production. The narrative threads together four stories, seamlessly interwoven as recurring fugues, reinforced by a musical score which often enhances, but sometimes intrudes with over- insistent changes of tempo and mood. In the first ‘scene’ from ‘Her Real Name’, I found the voices overpowered by the piano. This may have had more to do with the acoustics of the studio theatre, or perhaps my own defective hearing, than with the vocal projection of Nicholas King and Lauren O’Keefe whose acting was convincing. In ‘Ducks’ despite some trenchantly observant comment on social foibles and pretensions, the acting was occasionally wooden and the voices immersed by the piano. Probably the most entertaining ‘story’ was ‘Opened’ with some very funny dialogue, excellent acting and singing (especially by Charlea Edwards) and a real insight into the way we all inhabit private worlds and insulate ourselves to keep others out. It’s a great study in sensibilities and insensitivity.
The pianist worked tirelessly and expertly to convey an interesting, bold and innovative score, reminiscent of the compositions of Philip Glass. Sometimes I felt the changes in mood were too swift: there were moments of poignancy where emotions could have been allowed to linger (notably in ‘Ducks’ after the wife’s ultimatum and in ‘A Perfect Circle’ following the son’s first hospital visit).Changes in tempo could have been less abrupt.
The characters, all deliberately nameless, evoke everyman and everywoman, imprisoned in private worlds of memory and desire, and constrained especially by gender. The script is entertaining and moving; the lyrics are incisive, if at times inaudible; the piano score is richly imaginative, but occasionally intrusive, while the lighting adequately enhances the mood of each piece. The set is very effective, economical, minimalist, stark.
Ultimately, this preview was a triumph, a strong blend of voices, piano, narrative and drama, a great premiere showcasing local acting talent and musical creativity. The production was betrayed only by poor acoustics: it needs a larger auditorium fully to realise the potential of this work and the energy and commitment of its cast.