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A Moment on the Lips


Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

Mad March Hare Theatre Company in association with Sydney Independent Theatre Company present A MOMENT ON THE LIPS by Jonathan Gavin at the Old Fitzroy Theatre, Woolloomooloo.

Jonathan Gavin wrote A MOMENT ON THE LIPS some ten years ago. The play concerns seven women from a demographic that is a kind of ‘gay’ chic: a class that sometimes carries the appellation of “Lipstick Lesbians”: Victoria, a struggling artist/painter (Beth Aubrey); Jenny, her sister and a barrister (Sarah Aubrey); Rowena, Jenny’s partner, a social worker finishing her PhD in Women’s Studies (Lucy Goleby); Bridget, Rowena’s adopted Samoan sister who works as a professional health worker dealing with the dying (Sabryna Te’o); Anne, a stay at home mum with a daughter and husband (Ainslie McGlynn); Emma, a television news host (Claudia Barrie); and Dominique, an out of work actress, working as a waitress (Sonya Kerr). The text have these professional women coping with their work/life choices and attempting to maintain a coherency of friendship.

Mr Gavin has, mostly, in the past years written for television – PUBERTY BLUES, OFFSPRING, MR and MRS MURDER, RUSH – and one can detect why that is so while listening and watching this play – one does wonder of it if it was ever a treatment for an Australian television network, first. It has that sense of girls in overdrive competition, mouthing-off one liners and superficial observations to gain a kind of one-upmanship, one over the other – squash!.

Working on a design (Charles Davis) that looks like a blonde wood show room for Ikea, with all of that neat fine lined simplicity and gleam/beige blandness, offset by colourful, elegantly dressed clothing, modelled by the actors (not lived in), lit glamorously by Alexander Berlage, the incidents of the play have a glib television depth. Major incidents are brought to our attention and never dramatically teased out (let’s mention it, oh wow, this is contemporary life and living! – and let’s move to the next relevant social box issue – tick, tick, tock). It has the feel/ambition of the Canadian television series THE L WORD, with a grasp to attempt to reach the feel/look of SEX IN THE CITY. If you like television from the middle-of-the road menu this is a production for you. But to be honest, really, one can just simply cook at home, or call in the local take away, turn on the television and change the channels or hire the DVD of THE L WORD – no need to go to the inconvenience of getting to a theatre.

If the Director, Mackenzie Steele, had been able to help these actors to flesh out the text by having them create real women with back stories – a sophisticated sociology and psychology (what was he doing in the rehearsal room? What were they doing?) – an inner life, that could help justify what they say and do, instead of simply dressing them, and moving them on, around, and off the set, shouting at each other, he may have been able to do more for Mr Gavin’s play. As it exists the production is a pretence of presenting living and breathing humans in an idealisation of a cultural self-image through his pretty-as-a-brochure design choices, that becomes a genuine obstacle to believe or care about anybody on the stage. No-one will be too happy with this night in the theatre. For, despite that time and politics, social conventions have moved on, the material, thin as it is, does have potential to be more interesting than this effort, that is only an inch deep reading.

Ms Te’o has a sincere go, and succeeds in drawing our empathetic attention to this unusual, on Australian stages, character, Bridget, but mostly has to delineate it by herself, as other than Sarah and Beth Aubrey, who also do know what they are doing – but with proper directorial guidance could have gone further, deeper – (their short duets reveal that), not any of the other actors: Ms Goleby, Barrie, McGlynn and especially Ms Kerr, do anything more than speak the lines and wear the clothes, make-up and hair. They have no sense of been able to reveal character motivation for the audience, have no ‘music’ vocally (budgerigars), and respond blandly, predictably, superficially to the dramatics of their character’s opportunities.

What with the recent production of STOP KISS down at the atyp Wharf Space, the excellent ABC production of  JANET KING (Marta Dussledorp) with a central contemporary lesbian couple with children, empathetically drawn on weekly television, and the magnificent film, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR, with extraordinary performances from Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, the lesbian community have extraordinary contemporary stories and representations that demonstrate a maturity of approach that, maybe, ten years ago was not dared.

My companion said she did not recognise this world, and since she knows the worlds of contemporary Sydney lesbian communities, I have to trust she knew of what she spoke.

I believe that Mr Gavin’s 2010 play, BANG is a neglected work. I note that when I read A MOMENT ON THE LIPS, then, I was impressed. It must be the direction then, because I am familiar with most of these actors, and have seen them give much better work.