by Thomas Connelly
|Sorell Memorial Hall|
Having recently moved to rural Tasmania I have quickly learned that one must make one’s own entertainment. There are few cultural outlets in these small towns. Not even a cinema. So culture is mainly confined to the library and the video shop.
Country people are therefore forced to rely on their own efforts, as we do not get the pleasure of, for example, the TSO or Bell Shakespeare Company coming to our little towns. Into the breach steps our own Sorell On Stage (SOS) theatre group. This is a lively group of enthusiastic amateur thespians. Being, as my wife reminds me, an art snob, this is not the sort of theatre I would produce, if given the chance. But I am only too happy to support them. To this end I went along to their most recent production Murder in Casablanca.
This was organised with the support of the local RSL club. With the addition of kitchen and staff, the theatre group and the RSL were able to create two evenings of dinner theatre.
So on a crisp and damp winters end evening I went to the Sorell Memorial Hall (SMH) to see the play, and to help out as a waiter. As this was written and directed by a member of SOS I did not know what to expect.
The Sorell Memorial Hall was built in an art deco style, with wide horse flanks curving away from the street. Boasting a pretty little entrance way in the linear geometric style favoured in art deco design, a little bit of Broadway in old Sorell Town.
I will dispense with the bad aspects first, as they are few and are mostly a product of being an amateur theatre group in a small town. In all these sorts of productions the talent is not uniform. As this play was a musical, in the best of all possible worlds there would be a small band playing to add texture and depth to the music. Alas this is not possible. The keyboard player was very good, and it was nice to see his interactions with the cast. The play itself was not so much of a narrative arc, as a skeleton on which to hang a series of songs and set piece actions.
The lighting was not used to full effect. This is something SOS may want to concentrate on in thefuture. With only a small budget for sets and costumes effective lighting can with illumination hide a multitude of sins.
On a deeper note the play produced is non-confrontational and does not force the audience to engage too much with the work. There are no Brechtian ideas of Theatre of Alienation, or Beckket absurdity; these comments however say more about me than they do of the group.
Without challenging ideas of theatre as an art form, or challenging the audience to look at their assumptions of everyday life, in this locally written and performed play the group did a good job of subverting many ideas of performance. The production was a sort of homage to the classic movie Casablanca, and the songs of that era. Not so much a play as a series of songs hung together round the conceit of all the women that Rick had known in his life coming into his bar. This allowed the various lovers of Rick to tease him and to sing songs of the film noir era.
The director broke the convention of the proscenium arch, smashing the illusionary window which separates audience from performer. As this was dinner theatre and people were eating and drinking it was important for them to mingle with the crowd and maintain interest. So the play took place both on the stage and around the stage, slowly melding and melting into the audience. Like an old time rave when the crowd was of more interest than the music. This was very interesting and in a word… cool.
The limitations of money and time allow for amateur theatre to stand above the 'real', the professional. In professional theatre much of the decisions made, and this is true for many of the professional arts, are for commercial reasons; either to find a nice neutral piece that will not offend, or for some artists, a desire to offend as an end in itself. With small town local theatre the decisions may be made due to money issues, but they are not commercial issues, a subtle distinction.
Outside of the city art market, art can be made for the purest reason, the greatest reason, because it is fun and it is what we want to do. In small town art the barrier between audience and performer is naturally broken down. The person singing on stage one day will then be found at the local antique shop the next day. Everyone is a neighbour and the crowd are free to chat and mix with the cast after the show. When is one allowed to chat and rub shoulders with Geoffrey Rush after a performance in the alienating theatre market place of Melbourne, where the distinctions of artist and plebeian are stark and unavoidable.
In all, a better event than a performance. Still a fun time and most importantly a social event; a time to get together, not to create more distinctions. For this reason alone we should support the local artist in the same way that we desire to support the local butcher or bakery; as a way of turning our back on the impersonal market.