Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Love and Information - Hayman Theatre Company (1 March 2016)

I was talking to Director Teresa Izzard after the play and she gave me an insight into the particular challenges in presenting celebrated playwright Caryl Churchill’s script. No character names; a cavalcade of vignettes with no settings, no stage directions, no through line; and a rough structure of seven headings where individual scenes could be slotted into any order. It sounded like a Theatre Makers Do-It-Yourself Kit. Here’s a box of pieces with no instructions for assembly, now go make something.

This, of course, gives the director, actors, and the design team a great deal of freedom in how to present and interpret this mass of information. It also makes things a little problematic from an audience perspective. You quickly come to realise that there isn’t going to be any kind of traditional narrative. I could sit here and try and draw thematic threads out of it all and certainly there are touchstones such as fidelity, memory, childhood and the like. But really, for me, this was like a collection of audition scenes or, perhaps more aptly, a Showcase on Speed.

Once I realised this I settled into enjoying the production for what it was instead of trying to analyse it to determine what it might have been. The Showcase analogy seems most appropriate and certainly this was an excellent introduction into the performance and technical capabilities of this year’s Curtin University students. Izzard keeps things rattling along as scenes follow each other in rapid succession or even overlap briefly as the actors rotate through scenarios and personas with alacrity.

For the first time that I have seen, the black box space of the Hayman Theatre Upstairs was transformed with a built in set – white flats on three sides with three doors that were used with dizzying frequency. There were also white blocks that increased in number throughout the performance until there were fully a dozen on stage. The actors added to and changed their configuration to provide the basic setting of whatever situation they found themselves in. This was enhanced by use of projected images and the title of the scene. Those titles most often than not were a single word. The lighting and sound design added the final layer with the impressive use of lasers at one point and everything from pumping dance music to static as transitions took place.

This all created a vibrant space for the actors to work in and they used it to maximum effect. Those eight actors are Lauren Beeton, Declan Brown, Eloise Carter, Chelsea Gibson, Anna Lindstedt, Holly Mason, Nelson Mondlane, and Jess Nyanda Moyle. It was a very good ensemble with each actor having to inhabit a range of vastly different characters and make them believable in very short time spans. I also appreciated the physicality involved as different combinations of actors clambered over each other and those blocks or were dancing, at times full tilt. One of the standout scenes simply called Wife involved Moyle and Brown in a ballet like sequence of intense emotion and intimacy that utilised all of the stage to stunning effect.

That, however, is where the success or otherwise of the play as a collection of fractured parts rests. Scenes work better than others to highlight the talents on display. Some are no more than brief interludes that whizz by before the next vignette begins. Like any audition piece it’s the selection of the material that goes a long way to determining the outcome. Every actor has a chance to shine and it’s very much an equal opportunity piece from that regard.

From an audience viewpoint it probably ended at about the right time as I was beginning to weary of the conceit. There was no connective tissue and no one thread or character I could hang my hat on. As a true showcase of acting and technical ability, however, it certainly set the scene nicely for what should be another strong season for Curtin’s Hayman Theatre Company.  

Love and Information is being performed at the Hayman Theatre Upstairs on the Curtin University campus until Saturday 5th March.  

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