September 02, 1998



Murray Bramwell

Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love by Brad Fraser. Director: Rosalba Clemente. Designer: Robert Kemp. Lighting: Geoff Cobham. Composer: Stuart Day. State Theatre South Australia, Optima Playhouse.

Moliere’s The Misanthrope adapted by Victoria Hill based on an original concept by Tim Maddock. Director and designer: Tim Maddock. Lighting: Geoff Cobham. Costume design: Gaelle Mellis. Brink Productions. Balcony Theatre.

As its meandering title suggests Brad Fraser’s hit play from 1988 is concerned with eros and thanatos- love and death. Part thriller, part soap opera, part comedy of manners and always wholly engaging, this play, set in Edmonton, Canada, travels well. Its depiction of under-thirtysomethings in a provincial city has a ring of truth anywhere.

David McMillan is a TV actor back from the big smoke in Toronto and now getting by as a waiter. He works with Kane- eighteen, unsure of his sexuality and drawn to David’s openly gay style- and he shares digs with Candy, an insecure and obsessive young book reviewer who is looking for relationship and getting entangled with Robert, recently separated from his wife, and Jerri, a very forward admirer from the gym. Then there is Benita, a sex worker with psychic visions and a penchant for urban myths, and Bernie, David’s oldest friend, who keeps turning up, drunk out of his head and covered in other people’s blood.

Framed in isolation in Robert Kemp’s diagrammatic three storey apartment facade, the characters tell us about themselves. Out from under the brittle wit of their social exchanges come more solitary voices of uncertainty and yearning. They confide to answering machines and even, hesitantly, to each other. There are secrets here and, with a string of unloved murders being reported, heavy crimes as well.

Director Rosalba Clemente marshalls an able cast in a space almost cavernously distant from the audience. Splendidly lit by Geoff Cobham’s searching spots, it highlights the distances between the characters but undermines the intimacy of the play and slows a text which requires a nimbler, poetic flow. Mitchell Butel as David carries the flip humour well but is best in Act Two when the plot not only thickens, but darkens as well. Colleen Cross is convincingly nervy as Candy, Kate Roberts has a sinister persistence as the unrequited Jerri and Nathan Page is suitably unworldly as Kane. Syd Brisbane has an off-hand menace as Bernie, Fraser’s most challenging character.

This is a confronting play which probably deserves its copious censorship warnings. State Theatre have delivered a strong production which with more pace and vocal rhythm could become even better.

Brink Productions, now fully funded after such eye-catching projects as Jez Butterworth’s Mojo and Howard Barker’s Vanya, have opened with a high risk, take-no-prisoners venture into Moliere. In Tom Maddocks’ concept the action is transferred from¬† Parisian salon society to the Australian film industry. Alceste, the world-weary versifier from the original is now Al, an uncompromising film-maker. Oronte, his rival becomes Don, the vulgarian director, while the gossipy Celimene becomes Celine, a foxy film actress.

The play opens strongly with a satiric vignette of a film shoot but the task of managing the intricacies of Moliere’s satire on the merits of true-speaking and social subterfuge weighs heavily. Victoria Hill’s ambitious rhyming text has verve and appeal but too often the couplets clang with more desperation than dexterity.

As Al, Michael Denkha brings too much method to a characterisation which should be more stylised. John Molloy as Phil (Philinte)  and Michaela Cantwell as Ellie need more space for their fine portrayal of love and true regard, David Mealor is nicely deadpan as Don and Eliza Lovell brings zing to the duplicitous Stacy. Victoria Hill is vivacious as Celine but labours in the over-long final scenes. Tim Maddock needs to tighten the action and lose thirty minutes of text. Then we will see more of the Brink magic and less of a work in progress.

The Australian, September, 1998. nd.

1 Comment »

  1. None can doubt the veaicrty of this article.

    Comment by Ummi — September 29, 2014 @ 1:04 pm

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