Review: How To Disappear Completely ~ theatre notes

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Review: How To Disappear Completely

How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, by Fin Kennedy, directed by Paul King, Sound design by George Bisset. With Michael F Cahill, Glen Hancox, Helen Hopkins, David Passmore and Tory Rodd. Hoy Polloy Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre, Corner of Sydney & Glenlyon Roads, Brunswick, until June 7)

“What makes you who you are? A name? An address? A random collection of experiences, a few memories? …You are who you can prove you are. You are what people think. And that’s the easiest thing in the world to change.”

So claims the doomed conman Mike in Fin Kennedy’s play How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, a haunting and powerful exploration of identity and loss that made big waves when it premiered in Britain last year.

How To Disappear Completely explores the netherworld of missing persons. Kennedy sketches a bleak picture of the spiritual bankruptcy of contemporary society, where identity is little more than an advertising brand.

It follows the existential collapse of young advertising executive Charlie Hunt (David Passmore). He has an incipient ulcer, a bad cocaine habit, and his employers are just about to prosecute him for embezzlement.As his life crashes around his ears, he decides to slough off his old “soiled” identity and become someone else.

This was the first unproduced play in 40 years to win the prestigious Arts Council John Whiting Award, and its premiere at the Sheffield Crucible elicited rapturous reviews. Kennedy was tagged as a name to watch.

Even in this imperfect Australian premiere by Hoy Polloy, it’s easy to see why. It’s rarer than you might think to encounter new plays of this quality.

Kennedy has a sure sense of theatrical structure and a poet’s ear for professional vocabularies – the pathologist, the career criminal, the advertising shill – which he moulds into arresting dramatic language.

At once dramatically direct and metaphorically resonant, this writing demands a concomitant level of skill from actors, and is unforgiving if they don’t meet its demands. Hoy Polloy’s hardworking cast gives us a honest presentation of the play, but the performers are seldom able to fulfil its potential.

Michael F Cahill, playing a variety of roles, is the only actor who possesses the vocal skills to exploit the theatricality of Kennedy’s text.

Passmore in the central role has a couple of electrifying moments, but lacks a sense of journey: Charlie begins and ends abject. And too often the other cast members, playing a dizzying array of doubles, fall into mugging their parts when they’re at a loss.

Like the performances, George Bisset’s sound design and Paul King’s direction are patchy: there is little sense of integration and continuity. But there’s enough to give us a sense of this play’s power, and it’s a welcome chance to see one of the major new talents in British theatre.

Picture: David Passmore as Charlie/Adam in How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found. Photo: Tim Williamson

This review appeared in Monday's Australian. I fear I am not able to do an extended review this week. As you might have gathered, it's been madness here.

No comments: