April 21, 2012

The City

April 14 , 2012

The City
by Martin Crimp
The Bakehouse Theatre, Adelaide
April 13. Tickets $ 17 – $ 25
Bookings : 8277 0505,
Until April 28.

“Why is it“, asks one of the characters in Martin Crimp’s 2008 play The City, “that our hopes make us so sad ?” It is one of the very few direct comments anyone makes in this captivating, eighty minute maze of disconnected details, emotions, lacunae and cul-de-sacs.

Crimp’s plays have often used indirection to find direction out. Earlier works, like the self-descriptive Play with Repeats, use re-starts and repetitions to find variations and might-have-beens. His 1997 hit Attempts on Her Life is subtitled “seventeen scenarios for the theatre” and provides neither casting clues nor stage instructions.

In the opening dialogue of The City we initially feel we are on surer ground. A couple – Clair, a literary translator, and her husband, Chris, are discussing their day. He has had trouble swiping his staff ID to get into the building, she has a chance encounter with a writer named Mohamed whose child has gone missing at the railway station.

But in no time we sense there is a different weight to the two stories – one is apparently trivial and neurotic , the other potentially tragic – and this disjunction widens and twists as the play steps in and out of narrative focus. A neighbour, Jenny, appears. She is a nurse on shift work unable to sleep because of the children playing. She reveals that her husband, a doctor, is  involved in “a secret war”, where a city has been pulverized, even its inhabitants, reduced to “fine grey dust.”  This ruined city is a recurrent image, a spectre at the edge of the apparently calm domesticity. Is it a harbinger of bad faith ? A moral rebuke, perhaps, and a reason for these agitated, unquiet lives ?

Director Geordie Brookman and his nowyesnow company use the intimate confines of the Bakehouse theatre to strong effect. Victoria Lamb’s  abstracted minimalist décor of  white  and glass panels, (along with Ben Flett’s impersonal lighting) is deliberately short on reassuring particulars  and Andrew Howard’s soundscape is frequently ominous.

The performances are excellent. As Clair and Chris, Lizzy Falkland and Chris Pitman (ably supported by Anna Steen and Matilda Bailey)  lucidly, and often amusingly,  capture the unease and insecurities in their relationship, while also remaining disturbingly dissociated and elusive (like voices in a T.S. Eliot poem) as the narrative shifts, intriguingly, dreamily, and in tiny increments, out of our grasp.

Brookman is soon to take over as artistic director of the State Theatre of South Australia. It will be a welcome achievement if he can bring the intensity, clarity and freshness of this production – the same urgent nowyesnow-ness –  to the mainstage of the Playhouse.

Murray Bramwell

“Mazy tour through interconnected lives” The Australian, April 16, 2012, p.15.

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