One of the paradoxes of art is the uneasy legacy of success. As soon as a work is labelled a "classic", it becomes curiously invisible: it transforms into a monument, cobwebbed by all the extraneous things its success now symbolises, and the energies that made it a success in the first place are polished away by the pieties that must now attend it. Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is a good example: a fixity in the Australian theatrical universe, a symbol of nationalistic pride, it too easily becomes a thing instead of an act. It even has a nickname: The Doll.
|L-R: Travis, McMahon, Alison Whyte and Steve Le Marquand in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Picture: Jeff Busby.|
Sometimes it seems to me that a good half of the job of artists, especially in a temporal art like the theatre, is to reignite the life of earlier work, to rediscover the energy still sleeping under the dulling detritus of cultural regard. It's this drive that leads to work such as Hayloft's Thyestes, Benedict Andrews's The War of the Roses, or Daniel Schlusser's The Dollhouse, explorations which explode the classic and rebuild it in contemporary form. But the desire to see afresh is equally at work in Neil Armfield's production of The Doll, now on at the Melbourne Theatre Company after its premiere last year at Belvoir St. Respectful in the best sense, it taps into the raw power of Lawler's play, and shows us what tragic realism can be.