By Kylie Eastley
Festival of Voices 2012
Peacock Theatre, Salamanca Arts Centre
As clichéd as it may be, there is a time for us all when we feel the need to revisit our past, reflect on our present and, depending on what we find, determine what our future will be. Cynics may call it a mid-life crisis, while Jungians may call it a transition period which requires patience and compassion for oneself as well as those around us.
After the house has lost its fullness, the pub has lost its history, the chairs have lost their comfort and tea has lost its heat, you find yourself doing the most dangerous thing-measuring the man you are, without the woman who left you.
Tasmanian playwright Finnegan Kruckemeyer has written a familiar tale. A man who when faced with the break-up of a relationship travels back through his history; the family home, his childhood friendships and loves to ‘find himself’.
He wrote the story and left space for the accompanying songs that were written and performed by Hobart musician Dean Stevenson. On the final night of the season as part of the Festival of Voices I sit behind Finnegan, who is seeing the finished work for the first time. An opportunity to gauge the authors response as well as my own.
The sweetness of this new work, that is a combination of narrative and song, is not necessarily in the storyline. In fact, the challenge for some musical theatre is in avoiding the sentimental over-emotional ‘naffness’ that can sometimes accompany it. The sweetness in The Unsuitable Case of Me is in the manner in which it is told, and the words that are used to tell it.
The Peacock Theatre provides a warm and embracing venue for this production. A 5 member string ensemble sits to the side of stage while stacks of old books, suitcases, a world globe and a packing crate are positioned centre stage. All setting up the idea that the audience, as well as the performer, is about to go on a journey of some kind.
Dean Stevenson steps out with his guitar slung across his shoulder. This is him at his most comfortable. As narrator he speaks to the audience, telling the story of ‘the man’ whose girlfriend is leaving him. It is a third person reference that continues throughout the show.
Stevenson has a voice that is made to be heard; rich, gravelly at times and matched beautifully to both the sentiment within the work and the accompanying strings. As the narrator he is engaging and he keeps a pace throughout that holds the audience.
There is a charming cheekiness and humour to him and it is when he sings that he really lights up. His lyrics enhance the accompanying script and he manages to keep his performance on the edgier side of musical theatre for the most part. I did cringe a little at moments that moved towards sentimentality, however, such moments were minor. His connection with the musicians is stunning and creates sweet spots throughout; providing height and colour in the work. The five accompanying musicians should be applauded for their contribution to this work.
Stevenson moves seamlessly between musician, singer and performer. He works well at conveying the narrative and the accompanying emotion however during his spoken word pieces he sometimes appears a little physically uncomfortable on stage. This could be explained by the fact that this is the first time he has been in such a theatrical role.
Kruckemeyer’s script is reflective, funny and nostalgic. Throughout the show I was aware of the beautifully considered and sculpted words being uttered by Stevenson. The journey the playwright takes us on, depicted by a physical trip ‘this man’ takes, beautifully conveys the processes and time that is needed to lead us to the unavoidable truth that perhaps we knew all along; at the beginning of the journey. Kruckemeyer does this very well and we find ourselves happy to walk the path of ‘the man’ unaware of where it will lead us. The third person reference works well and I like the interplay between Stevenson the individual, the performer and ‘the man’ in the script. The words within the narrative and the lyrics in the songs are matched beautifully and combine to create an evocative story.
Selena de Carvalho has designed a set that perfectly complements the production. It is warm, classic and nostalgic with simple but clever mechanisms such as a packing crate that doubles as the cellar where ‘the man’ as a boy sneaks a smoke.
As in all life stories there is tragedy and joy; light and shade. While there was some element of light and shade created, I felt that the work would have benefited from more variation and a less literal approach at times. This was particularly in regard to a clumping of two songs that both reflected tragedy. The strings that introduced part of this narrative could have sufficed, rather than following the pattern of story…then song…then story. Creating this space could have enhanced the surrounding story; creating greater depth and darkness-light and shade.
The Unsuitable Case of Me worked as a one hour show and was well received by this audience. It was a show that resolved itself very neatly; with both the narrative and final song, which is a corker, tying a neat bow. I like the idea and development of such collaboration and see a real opportunity for writers and performers to develop new works that provide a platform to stretch both. I look forward to seeing more.