November 01, 1996




Double Bind Company



Stephen Sewell

Junction Theatre

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

As the psychiatrist R.D.Laing moved from clinical practice to social commentary, from the Divided Self to the Politics of Experience, he began to write in different forms. One of his most accessible, engaging and incisive works is Knots, a slim volume of psycho-conundra elaborating the many ways relationships can get tangled. Laing called them double binds and that is the name taken by director/composer Michael Hill and his associates for this innovative little chamber company.

The dark symmetries of Laing’s Knots have been used for stage work in the past. As Hill himself notes, there is something immediately theatrical about these micro-dialogues which lends them readily to performance. But it is the use of music which secures the success of this particular production.

The chorus made up of Michelle Twigden, Gina Zoia and Nicola Tudini provides tuneful repetitions which knit the various dialogues together. Hill’s attractive musical settings for I Know and Happy enhance the physical and verbal encounters between Jill and Jack vigorously performed by Marlo Grocke and Steve Rex Greig.

The updating of the dialogues to nightclub and other contemporary locations gives a youthful freshness to the piece. Knots is not without some awkwardness in both text and performance but the tuneful singing and the sincerity of its portrayal suggests that this work has a bright future, particularly for younger audiences.

As part of its Threesome season Junction Theatre is presenting DARKpaths a new work by Australian playwright Stephen Sewell.

Written for two actors DARKpaths consists of two monologues, Nil and Cat, and a dialogue entitled Buried. Sewell’s theatre is never a comfortable experience and this is no exception. His is a bleak and psychically corrosive perspective and in DARKpaths he is especially concerned with the worms at the heart of things.

Nil is one half of an exchange between a woman and her married lover. She is ending the affair but is still emotionally enmeshed. Sewell’s work is strongly inflected with brimstone and guilt. There are no easy sophistries in the lovers’ deceit, no extenuations, no respite. Spoken from the woman’s perspective the emotions are strongly masculinist creating a tension which is not wholly under the playwright’s control.

Cat is even more macabre. Cat is a marginal figure, sadistic and sexually depraved, who lives outside the urban mainstream. Sitting by his campfire he addresses an unidentified captive. There is no bucolic nourishment from the landscape for Cat, only a sense that there is nothing to encumber his spiralling cruelty. He is insignificant but he is also a malign force. He could be Ivan Milat.

Anna Linarello performs Nil with vulnerable honesty but it is a difficult piece, in part because Sewell’s own meanings seem unresolved. I wonder whether the male lover should have spoken directly, his presence seems to have so dominated the emotions of the work. As the title suggests, the monologue is concerned with the woman’s sense of obliteration but the playwright has not convincingly captured her experience. In the old days we would have called this writing phallocentric.

As Cat, Syd Brisbane gives a scary portrait of a psychopath but given the excess in Sewell’s text, director Geoff Crowhurst needs to bring the performances in both Cat and Nil down into the kind of creepy stillness that they demand. With an over-written text you cannot permit over-acting as well.

Buried gives both performers a chance to interact and it is the strongest section of the work. Performed on the same spare set as the monologues- on a platform of railway sleepers- Buried takes place in a deserted house where a couple are on the run from the police. The woman has bashed her infant to death in the hope that her brutal boyfriend will stay with her. The degradation, hatred and sexual violence between them is harrowingly portrayed by Sewell and convincingly presented by the actors. DARKpaths doesn’t always ring true, despite, or maybe because of, its hard-boiled style, but Buried depicts the kind of desperate, affectless cul-de-sac that makes you want to sleep with the light on.

“Entanglements” The Adelaide Review,  No.158, November, 1996, p.38.

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