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Photo by Alex Craig

Ruben Guthrie

Belvoir Street Company B, present ‘Ruben Guthrie’ written by Brendan Cowell, directed by Wayne Blair, at the Upstairs Theatre, 27 May – 5 July 2009

A new play commissioned by Company B from Brendan Cowell after he won THE PHILIP PARSONS YOUNG PLAYWRIGHT’S AWARD in 2005 called RUBEN GUTHRIE, playing in the B Sharp Space Downstairs, is blessed.

It is blessed with a clear unfussy staging by the director Wayne Blair; by the wonderful look through the work of Jacob Nash (Set and Costume) and the Lighting by Luiz Pampolha (the third design mentioned in this series of notices); and most fortunately by the terrific performance of Toby Schmitz. Here is a performance of such miraculous ease: intelligence, dexterously skillful voice and body work. His acting is so deceptively simple that you are swept along with this text despite its weaknesses. What is a marvel is the artful control of every moment (this is in a close space) it looks so effortlessly spontaneous that he might be living the moment NOW, for the first time and he invites you in to experience it with him. Charming, clever and vulnerable. When are we going to see Mr Schmitz been tested with the great benchmarks of skill like Hamlet etc.?

Brendan Cowell might be writing from closely experienced territory and the writing is strongest in the beautiful language of the monologues. It fails relatively in the scene interactions between his characters. Mostly two handers they are glib and mostly just expositional arguments for the next riff of the protagonist. The actors add some flesh to fairly perfunctory exchanges and it is a credit to their skills to be able to cover the soap opera text they are given to play to keep us engaged. The best of this work comes from Torquil Nelson who creates a completely unpleasant character (Damian) with insightful flair and Megan Drury playing a recovering addict (Virginia) that presents a character of alarming ambiguity. Is she a good person or a bad person.?? etc… In the hands of lesser actors or in one case a beginner the text is palpably inferior to the Monologues.

I have always felt that a good playwright arrives when he can command a scene with three or more characters in the one scene holding forth from each of their point of view: argue the arguments, keep the plot moving and deepen the characters and their relationships. Witness Stoppard in ROCK AND ROLL, the dinner party scene in Act 2. When you read the interview with the writer in the program you do come to suspect that this is very close to the writer and it does have the feel of a recovered alcoholic and much like Saint Paul at Tarsus has come out of it as Zealot. The text becomes preachy and if I were totally cynical –  seemingly politically opportunistic. This is a very important contemporary social issue in Australia but the writing needs to be less obvious. If the parent company take this BSharp (ie Co-op) production up into the main house as they did THE SEED this year, call in the Dramaturgs please, for a close rewrite on what is at the moment only potential material blessed with a significant performance.

1 replies to “Ruben Guthrie”

  1. Dear Kev,

    Your keenness and imperative for dramatic text and play performance shine through in your concise, observant reviews. I’m inspired! …and I gotta get to the theatre more often!!

    And I love it when you talk serious about theatre, very motivating!!!

    Love, R.

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