May 15, 2012

Lost in sea of troubles

May 14, 2012


Land & Sea
by Nicki Bloom
Brink Productions
Queen’s Theatre, Adelaide
May 12. Tickets $ 25 – $ 45
Bookings : BASS 131 246
Until May 26.

Land&Sea”, Nicki Bloom explains in her program notes, “exists in the in-between space. In between consciousness and unconsciousness, knowing and not knowing”. Which is where, it might be added, all music and most poetry comes from. Brink Productions newest work, directed by Chris Drummond and performed in the cavernous shell of Queen’s Theatre, aspires both to the musical and poetic.

Divided into six sections, Bloom’s text spans time, space and history. The opening scene, shrouded in a gauze tent, features a father and daughter in a Tempest-like trope – Prospero and Miranda (except their names are Mr Greene and Vera) on an isle of noises where a woman called Essie gathers baskets of eggs. The father tells her he has made the world and Vera wonders why there are no young men in it – until Poor Tom appears on the beach complete with a tree branch.

The second section is a mix of English ballad and Game of Thrones – Mr Greene is now King Billy, and Vera meets Prince Tomason and Queen Esther  – similar names, different packdrill. By section three Vera is begging in the street and writing messages on squares of cardboard. We are in wartime Europe in the late1930s in section four; radio broadcasts break through in four different languages and people are being shot down the telephone.

As ever, Chris Drummond’s production is beautifully fashioned. Wendy Todd’s white canopy set (on a disc of yellow sand) lifts away, later, to reveal a carefully detailed European hotel room. It is all delectably lit by Geoff Cobham and Hilary Kleinig’s evocative music, played live on cello and piano, uses themes from folksong to Gluck and Satie.

The excellent actors work valiantly to bring precision to the mercurial leaps of the text’s narrative and rhetorical styles. Rory Walker capably manages  Mr Greene the magus and the assorted  characters called Bill, Danielle Catanzariti is enchanting as the various Veras, Thomas Conroy is a steady consort as the multiple Toms and as Esther/Estella,  Jacqy Phillips not only  covers the nasty queen archetypes but sings the ballads, humming choruses and boulevard chansons with flair.

But Land & Sea is less than the sum of its very diverse parts. We follow the repeated symbols of eggs and branches, the motifs of exile, abandonment and lost love, but they do not gather momentum or dramatic intensity. Instead of being intriguing and vivid, the result is often arbitrary, mannered and unrewarding.

Mr Greene says at the close – “You can’t see where the earth ends or the sky begins. No ocean in between.“  Alas, we don’t share that sense of discovery. We just feel all at sea.

Murray Bramwell

“Lost in sea of troubles” The Australian, May 15, 2012, p.14.

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