Melbourne Festival #2
Half Life by John Mighton, directed by Daniel Brooks. Design by Dany Lyne, lighting by Andrea Lundy. With Richard Clarkin, Laura de Carteret, Barbara Gordon, Carolyn Hetherington, Maggie Huculak, Robert Perichini and Eric Peterson. Playhouse Theatre, Arts Centre, until October 15.
Half Life is, to say the least, a puzzling inclusion in the Melbourne Festival program. Although it occurred to me that it might have been imported all the way from Canada to make our own theatre look like genius.
Not that there's anything especially wrong with John Mighton’s play that the brusque excision of a couple of superfluous expository scenes might have amended. Even if it’s slight, it’s an intelligent and perhaps – it was hard to tell – felt exploration of the nature of aging, memory and love.
Set in an old people’s home, the story follows two abortive romances, one between the residents Clara (Carolyn Hetherington) and Patrick (Eric Peterson) and one between their children, Donald (Richard Clarkin) and Anna (Laura de Carteret).
Clara is suffering from senile dementia, but she and Patrick fall in love, a relationship that especially troubles Clara’s son, a scientist whose work is mainly concerned with Artificial Intelligence, and who, like Anna, is recovering from divorce.
Mighton’s script is generally a light-handed look at the infantalisation of our aged population, and pleasing poetic echoes run through its unobtrusive naturalism. However, what life it might have had is trampled by direction that pays little attention to the nuance of its dramatic rhythms. It makes a heavy-going 90 minutes of a play that could have been a sprightly hour.
Director Daniel Brooks had the bright idea of introducing blackouts between every scene, blackouts accompanied by a variety of sound effects and the swift shifting of stage furniture.
This was all right for the first half hour or so. By the final half hour, the rhythm had become so mind-numbingly predictable that I was having trouble staying awake. I began to think stern thoughts about the speed of light – surely some scenes could have tripped over each other’s heels to considerable profit?
The direction also makes it hard to judge the performances, which are on the whole surprisingly wooden. The three older actors – Hetherington, Peterson and Barbara Gordon as the grumpy resident Agnes – inject a little sparkle, but the rest err on the side of competence.
The real star of the show is Andrea Lundy’s lighting design, a precise geometry of autumnal colours that gives this show a gloss of class it doesn’t fully deserve. Though it’s only fair to add that the mainly grey-haired matinee audience with whom I saw Half Life seemed much more awake to its charms than I was.
Picture: L to R: Eric Peterson, Carolyn Hetherington, Maggie Huculak, Laura de Carteret, Robert Persichini and Barbara Gordon in Half Life. Photo: Tony Hauser
This review appears in today's Australian.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Melbourne Festival #2