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Don’t Say The Words

DON’T SAY THE WORDS by Tom Holloway. A World Premiere presented by the GRIFFIN THEATRE COMPANY and the TASMANIAN THEATRE COMPANY at the SBW Stables Theatre.

On the coldest night in Sydney this winter, so far, with rain sprinkling around me, after almost two weeks of every night out at some theatre event, I had an uninspiring dinner grabbed between work and the theatre and then walked to the SBW Stables Theatre, bought my ticket and then climbed the stairs into that relatively uncomfortable space. I had recently written a series of reviews which were never entirely happy about what I had experienced. Mostly, lately, had begun to be irritated about Directors (both young and mature) conceptualising a production of a play and relatively obliterating the writer’s intentions. (eg. SPRING AWAKENING). One of my readers had felt that I was maybe a little “mean” in my complaints. I had to give myself PAUSE.

I sat in the auditorium and saw the Stables tiny stage space further reduced by a raised Set design (Adam Gardner) of a glossy, black tiled bathroom muffled by an opaque, plastic shower curtain. My heart sank. This maybe the fourth bathroom set I had experienced in Sydney in the past few years, usually a director and designer’s conceit, not set there for any reason other than perhaps metaphor. Never much clarifying the play. The house lights pulsated momentarily from the dim state to a bright state and then faded to black. A Soundscape (Kelly Ryall) that felt it was made of dragging paper over a live microphone and other “modern” techniques of sound alienation began to be uncomfortably broadcast. (“Oh No!” I lamented.) A sound of a car on gravel and then the footsteps on gravel. Two neon bars (very trendy!) at the top and bottom of the mirror lit up and dimly I saw a man crawl out from it. (“OHHH NO!”) The shower curtain began to retreat neatly and the lighting revealed a woman in a black petticoat and a man in a tee shirt and jeans. He picked up a microphone and karaoke style sings badly to “History Never Repeats” by the Split Enz. (“OOHHHH! ERHHHH!”) The actors began the text loudly in a stylized manner, I braced myself for what the front of house had warned us was a seventy minute, no interval journey.

The actors Anna Lise Phillips and Jack Finsterer began just a little uncertainly, feeling for their rhythm, warmed to each others creative state, then having found that, seemed to adjust to us like sensitive musicians, and then continued their duet and gradually seduced me into the play. The experience of real theatre. There was a circle of communication. And although the set design had all the requisites of a bathroom: tiles, grubby bath tub, filled with water; disgusting, rusting, lidded toilet bowl and encrusted hand washing sink and washing machine all of which were functional during the action of the play, and even though most of the activation of function was metaphoric rather than necessarily naturalistic they were never gratuitous. In fact they enhanced the meaning of the play. Water flooded from the bath tub on cues that supported the textual moment. The bath water was used as a cleansing agent to support a later series of textual expositions. The sound scape was beautifully and seemed to be detailed exquisitely to the mood of the dialogue. The lighting (Paul Jackson) was atmospheric and a “character” to the sensitivities of the text. It was all in concert. All as one. There are seven scenes in the play and later Brett Stiller joins the orchestra of instruments and is thrilling in his execution. In fact all three actors are a wonderful ensemble. I did feel that the first scene with Ms Philips and Mr Stiller was especially wonderful. As was her later solo. Mind you, as I write, it occurs to me that the scene with Mr Finisterer and Mr Stiller was also amazing. Maybe most of it was? UH?!!!!! I had a most satisfying night in the theatre. Not 10 out of 10!!! Maybe the confined space did not facilitate easy staging choices for all the moments in the play And I was prevented from sharing all the information?? Maybe the costuming was a trifle perfunctory(?) but something was not quite fulfilled.

This was directed by a young Director Matthew Lutton. The press palaver (spin) (The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian.) I had read on the walls of the foyer whilst waiting to go upstairs. (UMMMM!) It naturally, in my then state of a cynical regular theatre goer, prejudiced me to my apprehension of the coming night. However based on this one experience of his work it might all be justified. This was wonderful, beautifully thought out work. Even though the whole Design concept was not demanded by the writer, not one element was an imposition. It all served to clarify the writing and not as it has mostly done in my apprising of other work of other directors, obliterated or obfuscated the play. Alleluia!! How I wish that I could have seen his TARTUFFE in Melbourne. A classic illuminated for a contemporary audience with a modern artist???

The writer Tom Holloway has written a magnificently taut play. The Dramatic editing of his material and the organising it and the style of communicating it are all excitingly challenging for the audience. Its precision is admirable and certainly it appears to be a script that actors want and will want to act. It is no surprise to read the writer’s clue in the published text that DON’T SAY THE WORDS was inspired by the play AGAMEMNON by Aeschylus. The structure and dramatic elements are strong and wonderfully expanded or diminished as Mr Holloway’s inspiration needed. Tom Holloway has looted but also respected his source. Many another writer has taken inspiration from the Greeks. From The ORESTEIA, of which AGAMEMNON, is the first of the trilogy, writers of the ilk of “Sophocles, Euripides, Seneca, Racine, Eugene O’Neill, Gerhart Hauptmann, and T.S. Eliot” have found inspiration. Mr Holloway has done Aeschylus proud.

I have had a very good time at the Stables Theatre this year. All of them, mind you, challenging. Two plays, both Australian have been particularly exciting to witness. COLDER by Lachlan Philpott and now DON’T SAY THE WORDS by Tom Holloway. I recommend a visit. I hope that.the major companies have had a look, and feel that a larger audience would be enriched by another production. I urge you to go.

Don’t Say The Words is playing now until 26 July 2008 at the SWB Stables Theatre.