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Photo by Blueprint Studios

Stories Like These and Griffin Independent present the world premiere of MUSIC by Jane Bodie at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.

MUSIC is the World Premiere of this play by Jane Bodie. It is, interestingly, not her latest play. This play sits somewhere between HILT (2002) and THIS YEAR’S ASHES (2011). In the program notes, Ms Bodie tells us:

(In) writing MUSIC I wanted to explore people’s perceptions of mental illness, how often complex symptoms are misunderstood, along with the fragility and hardship of those managing it, the fine line between well and ill. I also wanted to expose how sometimes we exploit fragility and glamourize obsession, for the sake of art. I chose to write the story of two actors colliding with a mentally ill character, thinking they are helping him to be ‘normal’. … As the sister of someone who has suffered mental illness for years, I felt a sense of urgent responsibility to convey the subject with respect and authenticity. …

The textual provisions given to the character Adam (Anthony Gee) – the sufferer of illness – is a testament to the sensitivity of Ms Bodie’s vision and to the delicate craftings of her writing skills to be able to take what is, obviously, an ‘urgent’ life observation, dearly close to her, and shift it to illuminating craft, to make art. The task that all artists are attempting to make, no matter what form they are working in. This is the reason to attend to this play, for Mr Gee gives a moving and focused eloquence to the physical and mental depths and strains of Adam’s story (a kind of break-out, but disciplined, performance). The conversation, and especially, the long monologues are held and spoken with such care, and insight by Mr Gee, that one is drawn into a place of immersed concentration, that takes one away from the simple looking at the human in suffering, but rather, encourages us to go deeply into what Ms Bodie’s shining literary x-ray torch is revealing to us, of the agonies of Adam, and his struggle to find an equilibrium, to be able to exist. This comprehension of mental illness, Ms Bodie, undoubtedly coveys with the ‘respect and authenticity’ she desired. She knows what it is to be touched with fire.

It is in the other strand of MUSIC that Ms Bodie tells us of, of choosing “to write of two actors colliding with” Adam, and the misperceptions that they have concerning the complex symptoms and “the fine line between ill and well…” that the performance, or the material, seems to be lacking. Underwritten? Underdirected? Underacted?. Take your pick – one of these, or all of the above! This is where the play, or performance of, became a bit of a muddle.

Gavin (Tom Stokes) and Sarah (Kate Skinnner), two actors, stalk Adam out, become acquainted with him, and ask to ‘study’ him as a role model for a character in a play that they are both rehearsing. During the process they make ‘friends’ with him, they share meals, and encourage him to take on the ‘normalities’ of life, to get him out of the ‘flat’, and to drink, laugh and be merry – whether he is on medication or not, displays healthy symptoms or not. This leads to Sarah being infatuated with Adam, even transgressing into ‘sexing’ with him without any qualms of judgement. It, also, supposedly, takes Gavin to a believable capability of ‘impersonating’ Adam as to appear to be him, such that professional carers mistake him for the real thing, and take him away to be ‘sectioned’ in a hospital after they are called because of disturbing, destructive behaviour in Adam’s flat – a double life, a ‘possession’ by character study has, supposedly, been achieved by Gavin.

Neither, Ms Skinner or Mr Stokes prepare us for these eventualities. The Director, Corey McMahon, simply has the actors go through the motions of the writing but has not encouraged any clues from the actors as to the sub-textual developments of Sarah and Gavin, that will help us understand the climax of the play. Ms Skinner does not reveal in her choices much evidence of Sarah’s journey to ‘bedding’ Adam – she just does – Sarah’s behaviour simply reads as incredibly insensitive or stupid. Mr Stokes has not demonstrated Gavin’s capability of ‘walking or talking’ the symptoms of his supposed studied observation of Adam. He does not show us that actor’s accruing of observational tics, the guise of the believable impersonation of Adam, certainly not enough for us to believe the ending, which happens off-stage.

We, the audience, need more clues to what is happening.

The Design by Pip Runciman of the apartment that Adam is living in looks a little too affluent and cared for to be this fragile man’s domicile – particularly the dominating, glamorous looking back wall that became a disco dance pulsing of light at one stage. (Lighting by Verity Hampson and Benjamin Brockman.) It does not have a sense of the life that Adam is desperately trying to hold onto, despite the piling of envelopes etc. (the photograph, above, I presume, shot in an actual apartment, has a more truthful resonance to Adam’s circumstances, then the actual Set Design.) The Sound Design by Nate Edmundson is what Ms Bodie believes her brother, would “bloody love”- I am not sure how useful it was to the storytelling as I experienced it, nor did I find much connection to the soundtrack and the title of the play.

If the food of love is music than Ms Bodie’s textural ‘rhapsody’ for her brother is music of an emotionally heartfelt and superior kind. For the play, MUSIC, especially, when dealing with Adam’s condition is a touching experience. The performance by Anthony Gee is absorbing. Sam O’Sullivan as Tom, the ‘mentor’ (brother) to Adam,  gives another fine supporting performance.

Do check it out.

1 replies to “Music”

  1. I also felt that Anthony Gee's performance was fantastic: the main reason to see this play.

    But the other two main characters, the actors who befriend him seemed irrelevant. The battle waged between them didn't feel authentic & was unclear. The ending was abrupt & left some of us wondering if the play had really finished.

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