August 08, 1985

Of Fire and Satire

The South Australian State Theatre Company’s latest commission, Muse of Fire, by Nigel Krauth, is currently playing in the Playhouse in Adelaide.

Krauth takes the prologue from Henry V as his text – “O for a muse of fire, that would ascend/ the brightest heaven of invention” – and has written a witty, satiric melodrama based on the exploits of George Trafford, an indefatigable theatre manager whose troupe performs at the Empire Theatre in Sydney in 1910.

Trafford is a man of soaring intentions and he watches in envy the actual flight of the aviator, de Vries, who defies “Australian gravity” to take the first powered flight over Sydney.

Trafford’s backers abandon him for investment in the cinema and his former wife haunts the Empire Theatre recalling her stage glory.

Meanwhile Trafford bobs and weaves with union pressures to pay the basic wage, spirited demands from his mistress Rosie, and challenges from the youthful Louis Esson to embark on a new Australian drama.

Baffled in the face of change, Trafford’s muse of fire descends to thoughts of arson and insurance and a grand scheme for a new theatrical phoenix from the proceeds.

But Trafford’s dream of cutting loose, and free flight, is vexed by his failure to transcend the feckless melodramas he concocts and enacts. Krauth locates him somewhere between Sir in Harwood’s The Dresser and Toad of Toad Hall as Trafford dithers heroically between unscrupulous commercial instinct and a vision grudgingly shared with Louis Esson.

As Trafford, Douglas Hedge gives a touching, comic performance which captures the energy and frustrated grandeur of the character and sustains the play when at times the plot becomes cumbersome.

Director Keith Gallasch occasionally obscures the subtleties of Krauth’s script when he permits the comedy to become too broad. The characters may be second rate actors but Krauth has delineated them carefully beyond stereotype as William Zappa and Ross Williams prove by not hamming them.

Others tend to needless bombast – David Kendall as the investor and Peter Finlay as the unionist, for instance.

Deborah Kennedy gives a shrewd performance as the formidable Molly Trafford and Andrew Tighe, on crutches from a rehearsal injury, turns adversity to advantage with some disarming over-acting as Louis Esson. Natalie Bate as Rosie is valiant with a character that still needs some revision.

Colin Mitchell’s set is replete with the Doric columns and rococo proscenia of the Edwardian stage and when it is time to torch the Empire Theatre, chunks of the set are removed and John Comeadow’s imaginative lighting gives the Playhouse audience an illusion worthy of Trafford’s aspirations.

Muse Of Fire affectionately recalls the early Australian theatre while sardonically commenting on the continuing demand from audiences for familiar and sentimental values and legerdemain.

Esson’s call for subversion and social truth remains remote and unpopular. But by revealing his audience’s yearning for illusion and diversion, Krauth does not merely content himself with gratifying it.

Keith Gallasch is to be commended for commissioning Nigel Krauth and his intrepid imagination
The National Times, August 9, 1985, p.36.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment