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Love Me Tender

Company B Belvoir, Griffin Theatre Company and ThinIce present LOVE ME TENDER by Tom Holloway at Belvoir St Theatre, Upstairs.

Tom Holloway has had DON’T SAY THE WORDS; BEYOND THE NECK and now LOVE ME TENDER produced in Sydney, in the last three years, and has successively demonstrated, and with this play confirmed his potential as a very important contemporary voice in the Australian theatre scene. All three plays deal with confronting issues and in a literary style that is poetic and beautiful. Challenging and satisfying. Both substance and style. A voice that is growing more and more unique in its appeal and power.

Propelled by the youthful but highly sophisticated response of the director, Matthew Lutton and an empathetic creative team: Set & and Costume Design, Adam Gardinir; Lighting Designer, Karen Norris; Composer & Sound Designer, Kelly Ryall, the physical environment of the play is riveting and deserves the work it may require to decipher as an audience. Coupled with a flawless cast: Luke Hewitt; Belinda McClory; Kris McQuade; Arky Michael and Colin Moody, who give us a commitment to acting, that is breathtakingly fearless, such that it demands and compels the audience to participate and persist in a play that tackles contemporary subject matter that grows progressively uncomfortable and confronting. It is 90 minutes long and plays without interval.

A great, but/and, demanding night in the theatre.

The summary notes on the back of the printed text/program from Currency Press, (at $8- an absolute bargain, and I have found, an invaluable gift in imbibing further clarity in the depth of what I saw in the theatre) summarises: “LOVE ME TENDER is a play of beauty and emotional power. Inspired by Euripides’ IPHIGENIA in AULIS, Tom Holloway has orchestrated a thrilling version of contemporary Australia drawn from our experiences of the catastrophic bushfires, of raunch culture and pre-teen sexuality, and of our domestic rituals. This is exquisite writing about our fears, the expectations of fathers, the extremities of love, and the need for action when the world becomes undone.” All true.

In the writer’s note, Tom Holloway, suggests, perhaps a little too hopefully, disingenuously “Maybe I should talk about Euripides’ play here, but you shouldn’t need to know about that to see my play. LOVE ME TENDER is not an adaptation – it’s inspired by IPHIGENIA in AULIS, but it’s a play that needs to exist on its own. If I start talking too much about the original, maybe it will get in the way of you experiencing my work.” One does not need to know the Euripides original certainly, but it helps. In that play, Agamemnon and the Greek army are becalmed on the beaches and cannot sail to Troy to rescue Helen unless he sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis. Clytemnestra, the wife and mother, is not fully aware of the crisis. In the climax of the play Electra tells Clytemnestra and Orestes and Chorus after the sacrificial ritual “….then…then, Orestes/Something wonderful, unwordable:/A flame, a flash of god-light,/A thud and a thrill of wind/And Iphigenia had gone;/And a deer lay on the altar/gasping out its life-breath …..” At the last moment the girl is replaced by the goddess, by a deer.

In the poetic language of Mr Holloway’s play, the mixing of the girl/daughter with the imagery of a deer is, for those in the know, a profoundly clarifying and moving clue. At the birth of the Father’s (Colin Moody) daughter: “…I see her. There amongst the hay. Struggling to stand. My wife lying, still, and her. Our deer. She looks up at me with her black, blank eyes and I feel like she is suddenly looking straight at me. Deep into me….” The sacrificial daughter of Agamemnon and this contemporary story are entwined. What follows is a story of the extremities of love, the love that a father has for his daughter, a story of a daughter for her father, of a wife for her husband and daughter. “I feel it suddenly and deeply inside me it is as if I get these flashes. These amazing and yet terrible flashes of what is to come and suddenly I am filled with an immense and overwhelming sense of love and horror. Yes. Of pain and happiness. Yes. Of joy and sorrow. Yes. Of immense joy and of absolute sorrow. Yes.” Contemporary confrontations about the shifting behavioural boundaries of our society and the sexualising of our children are met head on and conclude in a fiery climax of a hero fire fighter unable to rescue a girl in a burning car. “He desperately tries to find a way to get to her. He goes to the car. The flames surrounding it are so hot he can’t get close to it……..He backs away from her. He can’t save her……She sees her father step back… They look into each other’s eyes…He mouths he loves her…He turns… He runs…She saw him give up. As he runs the chaos that surrounds him enter into him…..” The gods have forced a sacrifice onto this family. The gods have intervened. Chaos fills the world.

On a raised platform of a grassy lawn, surrounded on five sides by a perspex guard, this chorus of five actors recall these events in a passionate, rushed clarity of story telling. The speed is relentless and one is drawn into the slip stream of it’s careening energy, one cannot get off, once it begins. It is a bit like getting on board a roller coaster and being buckled in and there is absolutely no way to get off , and absolutely no way to close off your senses to the nightmare journey. My audience members attentive, then slowly restless with the power of the story and the ideas behind the story, but bewitched by the imagery.

Colin Moody as the Father startlingly bewildered, perplexed, standing, holding a lamb tenderly in his arms, is so marvellously ambiguous in his offers to the audience that one responds with all: empathy, grief, fear and repulsion, each emotion and other permutations succeeding one after the other, sometimes, amazingly, at the same time. This company draws one into the maelstrom of possible or real moral questioning. One does not leave the theatre untouched. Rather, besmirched.

Mr Luttton is more restrained in his theatrical techniques, (water, smoke) in contrast to his work on DON’T SAY THE WORDS, but still has a tendency to overstate/overuse them. But this an impressive experience. The bravura of the acting is haunting and Ms McClory once again shocks one with the range of her choices. I gloried in them. The dance sequence is truly gob-smackingly brilliant. Full of horror, a type of ecstasy, joy and of almost unbearable pain. Please unleash this actress onto Medea, Phaedra or a role of such-like raw Greek tragedy dimensions. Arky Michael is diabolically thrilling in his tasks as Chorus. And Ms McQuade, with what sounds like a restored and enriched voice, matches him moment by moment in all of it’s delicious mastications in language usage. (Has she been better?) Luke Hewitt as the Cop/Chorus, grounding and pragmatic in his responsibilities.

This is an amazing experience, but, be warned, not for everyone. This is not polite theatre. This is full-on. Don’t miss it. It is a work out, but one to be treasured.

Playing now until April 11.
For more information or to book click here.

*Quotes from text by Tom Holloway and John Barton’s TANTALUS. (Iphigenia in Aulis.)

7 replies to “Love Me Tender”

  1. Hi Kevin,

    Couldn't agree with you more, an exciting new(ish) voice in a drab Australian theatre world, and the writer's voice was matched by the energy of the production. Inspired performances.

    But I was shocked at your review of Stockholm. I've yet to find anyone who liked it – "The Jealous Wife"-syndrome?? I couldn't guess most lines as they were coming, and what you heard was what you got: not a single metaphor, no subtext, reverberation, just a series of "I said", "You said" lines. Interesting concept, with actors physicalising emotions in that way, but that was about it.

  2. The play was lost on me. I came out of gthe Belvoir not knowing what it was about or what it was trying to tell me.


  3. hey kevin, can't wait to see this one. which IIA translation are you quoting? It reads so brilliantly – made me want to read it in full. tom

  4. Kevin, thanks for the insights into what was a rather confronting and at times confusing play. We saw it on Sunday and I knew immediately afterwards I wanted to see what you thought. It certainly did generate hours of discussion afterwards over dinner. I think we got the gist of it but it was a bit obtuse at times. I did think they overdid the mist/smoke thing a bit. Maybe it should have built up slower rather than just going to full on. I suppose we can be lucky they didn't try to really get under our skin and use real smoke.


  5. The anguish suffered by the father in "Love Me Tender" is not the stuff of a Greek tragedy , and that is why I found this performance often infuriating. The performances inspire admiration and wonder – there are moments when Colin Moody's face defines despair – but experimentalism fails when you find yourself wondering why an actress has to get soaked as she dances , and then remain on stage sopping wet , when it adds nothing to the drama.

  6. Tom, the text quoted is from the John Barton versions. IPHIGENIA IN AULIS first appeared in the RSC THE GREEKS. And is now further expanded in a collection of the Greek oeuvre called TANTALUS. Pared back, direct and easily accessible but still powerful.

    Kevin J.

  7. Yes I remember seeing this play. It was really boring and I didn't see the point (as mentioned by the other commenter) of the girl dancing to Britney Spears for 4-5 minutes. WTF? The narrating style was too much of a gimmick for me.

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