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Hammerhead (is dead)



Bambina Borracha and Griffin Stablemates present a World premiere: HAMMERHEAD (IS DEAD) at the SBW Stables Theatre.

Hammerhead has been hit in the head by his sister and the play begins with her calling for help. “8.00 – the accident. 8.01 – the play begins. ‘Hammerhead’ is dying. 9.30-the play ends, ‘Hammerhead’ dies.” “The time in between includes some sex with dreamboat Denny, adventures on the high seas with Mindy, and conversations in a seaside shack with Jones.”

This is a new play by young playwright Nick Coyle. Although this is the first play of his that I have seen he has a catalogue of at least six other works recorded in the program notes. He was produced at the STC Wharf2Loud Season in 2007 with KITTENBONE BRIDGE. The first thing to say is that this play is not naturalistic at all. What a relief!!!! Young Hammerhead (Brynn Loosemore) has an accident and what happens for the next 90 minutes is a fantasy that “flashes before his eyes” before he dies. Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice who tumbles down a hole into a world of adventure, Hammerhead tumbles into a whirling world of strange characters who talk to him and give him quests and adventures. He meets Jones (Davey?) (Charlie Garber) and his imaginary friend Tooth who enslave him. He escapes onto a cruise liner and meets Mindy (Anna Houston) and her off stage mum. Then, arrives in a jungle war zone where he meets Denny (Gus Murray) and his pet, the dog/cat Nubbins (Anna Houston) and has interactions. So….!!!!!!!??

There is some clever writing that is poetic and connected sometimes to a pop culture field of references which are amusing. A subtle and almost surrealist humour. N.F. Simpson tinkles. The poetry is a little simplistic sickly but, still, charming , although often, the writer gets enamoured with his own wit and rifts and so becomes over written. The problem is that none of these interactions, however independently amusing, add up to much. Just whimsy for whimsy’s sake. Jones and Mindy are particularly interesting characters but the episodes just keep moving on, being funny. There is no real method or structure to it all and it becomes a trifle tiresome, having a dramatic inertness that is ultimately unsatisfactory. I might be in the minority here because I also find the MONTY PYTHON films similarly amusing but accumulatively tiresome.

If the wit is the point then it succeeds. If there is more to it, neither the writing or the direction, both by Nick Coyle, are agile enough. In fact the Direction is the weakest part of the enterprise. The material needs a much more detailed eye. The comedy, as played by this very enthusiastic and relatively skillful group, is broad both physically and vocally.

Mr Garber, as Jones, as a fairly honed stand-up comic skill, depending on broad strokes and personality but neglecting any real investment, as an actor, in character nuance and humanity. The task he sets himself is just not complex enough.

Miss Houston similarly has comic dexterity in her skills and intelligent timing and although there is an attempt to plumb a subjective truthfulness to Mindy’s world, the director has not helped her to savour and deliver those opportunities, try as she does. If he had we might have had a more engaging identification with the material (Her creation of the dog/cat, Nubbins is a marvel). We tended to laugh AT, rather than what I think is there, an opportunity to laugh WITH the characters.

Mr. Murray has an almost impossible task of the “lover”/ jungle soldier comic hysteric as this is the least coherent character writing by Mr Coyle. Mr Murray does the best he can with the material.

Hammerhead our “heartbreakingly ordinary” hero/victim is a relative cipher to the action and Mr Loosemore is very competent at revealing the circumstances of his world with simple, honest, bewildered responses to the action. (The emotional loss of Denny lacked believability) However, is there a journey for this character? Is there a point to the tale? If there is then neither the writing nor the direction elucidated this for me.

The Set design (Colleen Reeks) and the Costume design (Amanda Testa) are very successfully conceived and executed for the production. (The costumes for Jones, Mindy and especially the monkey skeleton were terrific.) Both the lighting design (Brent Forstrom-Jones ) and the Sound design (Steve Toulmin) were supportive to the vision of the play.

All in all a very promising beginning to the 2009 season. However, I feel, if, Mr Coyle had taken on a Director to the production it would have possibly benefited from another aesthetic eye. Certainly Mr Coyle could have spent more time on the writing that the physical staging revealed needs attention.

Coincidentally, I have just finished reading a play that the STC are presenting later in their season. It is by Anthony Neilson and is called THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISSOCIA, and like HAMMERHEAD, has a character, Lisa, who meets a wide variety of odd and amusing characters in her journey but in this instance not only are the meetings amusing but they have a pathos, truthfulness and constructive point to their presence in the unfolding of the play. The world of the play expands my knowledge and appreciation of the world I live in. HAMMERHEAD as it stands does not do this. It is amusing with little other point. Mr Coyle could benefit from acquainting himself with Mr Neilson’s work (Joe Orton, maybe, as well.) for there is a very special surreal point of view proclaimed here and it would be exciting for it to continue to be pursued by this writer.

Playing now until 31 January. Book online or call 02 8002 4772.

1 replies to “Hammerhead (is dead)”

  1. I agree, mostly. I have seen some of Nick Coyle’s work, and I think he is so so very original – and that is extraordinarily precious in Sydney (and beyond).

    I hope that he isn’t discouraged by reviews, of this show, that indicate that the work is in some way superficial – because although it’s whimsical I think there’s a darker heart beating underneath.

    And funny is hard to come by…

    So rally, Nick! and come up with something symbolic perhaps to shut em up… but keep going….

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