October 16, 2013

When truth and faith collide, twice

Adelaide Theatre

Vere (Faith)
by John Doyle
State Theatre Company
And Sydney theatre Company
Dunstan Playhouse
Adelaide Festival Centre.
October 16. Tickets $ 25 – $ 65
Bookings: BASS 131 246,
Until November 2 .
Duration : 2 hours 30 minutes including interval

Vere is the name of the central character in John Doyle’s engaging new play about an Australian physicist on the brink of a momentous discovery. In its Slavic origins, Vere means faith, but in Latin it also means truth – and these two notions are about to collide. Firstly, in Switzerland, where Vere is going to participate in the historic Hadron project to prove the existence of Higgs’ boson : an atomic particle, theorized by recent Nobel prizewinner Peter Higgs in 1964, and finally verified in March this year. Also, catastrophically for Vere himself, is another collision of faith and truth when, just before leaving, he is diagnosed with dementia and given only weeks to prepare for its rapid onset.

Doyle draws many strands and motifs into his intriguing comedy of ideas, including connections to two other visionary Australians, also named Vere – Herbert Vere “ Doc” Evatt, the political pioneer and Vere Gordon Childe, the brilliant social archaeologist whose mysterious death in the Blue Mountains in 1957 brings parallels to the play.

In this memorable State and Sydney theatre co-production, director Sarah Goodes releases the momentum of Doyle’s often funny text to good effect : especially in Act One, set in Vere’s university office (deftly designed and lit by Pip Runciman and Nigel Levings) where colleagues gather with Ralph, the ebullient Vice Chancellor, for end of year drinks. The jokes are topical, sometimes silly, but it is a golden vision of academic fellowship and creativity and Doyle intends this, unlike in Act Two where the collision of rational views and Christian fundamentalism is stretched, perhaps too far, into bitter farce.

There are some fine performances as six of the actors play twin roles. The character names are similar and Doyle creates a poignant confusion for Vere as, in his increasing dementia in Act Two, he mistakes his family for his work associates. Ksenja Logos is Marissa , the neurologist with grim tidings, then Melissa, wife of Vere’s son Scott, (Yalin Ozucelik). Matilda Bailey and Matthew Gregan play Gina and Mike, the Gen X’s in an ageing world, Rebecca Massey is excellent as Kate the physicist (and then Katherine the brainless believer) and Geoff Morrell is outstanding as Ralph, the vainglorious VC, and Roger, the insipid cleric.

But the success of the production rests with Paul Blackwell’s splendid performance as Vere. From the cherubic intellectual delight of his opening lecture (marvelling at the span of human invention from neolithic axe head to the Standard Model of Physics) to Vere’s desperate recognition that his mind is evaporating, Blackwell anchors Doyle’s sometimes flighty text and imbues his humanist scientist with both rapture and dread.

Murray Bramwell

“When truth and faith collide, twice” The Australian, October 18, 2013, p.13.

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