March 09, 2016

Marriage viewed uncomfortably and kaleidoscopic cautionary tale

Adelaide Festival

The Country
by Martin Crimp
Stone/Castro in association with Insite Arts International,
State Opera of SA and Adelaide Festival.
State Opera Studio, 216 Marion Rd, Netley
March 7. Tickets: $ 25 – $ 36
Bookings :
BASS 131246. Until March 13. Duration 90 minutes, no interval.

1927, co-production with Salzburg Festival,
Theatre de la Ville Paris and Young Vic.
Dunstan Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre.
March 8. Tickets: $30 – $59
Bookings :
BASS 131246. Until March 13. Duration 90 minutes, no interval.
Sydney Theatre Company season March 16 -19, Roslyn Packer Theatre.

From the opening lines of UK playwright Martin Crimp’s The Country there is a strangeness, a suppressed menace and ambiguity, in even the simplest utterance. Richard, a doctor, has moved to a refurbished granary in the English countryside with his wife Corinne and their young children. But their pastoral idyll is not as it seems, especially when it is revealed he has brought a young, unconscious woman into their house.

In Stone/Castro’s captivating production, director Paulo Castro has deftly revealed the emotional pain and betrayal which is present, but only indirectly acknowledged, in Crimp’s coolly astringent mystery-thriller. Nothing is naturalistic in the production style, props, including a toy cat, are used unrealistically, intriguingly everything is very slightly skewed. David Lampard’s set (seductively lit by Daniel Barber) is half constructed cutaway plywood, through which we peer at the elusive, slow-release narrative.

Nathan O’Keefe and Jo Stone are outstanding as Richard and Corinne, expertly delivering Crimp’s carefully shaped dialogue, where every statement is tested, weighed, doubted, confirmed and then interrogated again. It is a discomforting portrait of a marriage under siege from inconvenient truths. Natalia Sledz is also memorable as the young Rebecca, caught in a situation she cannot control. The Country is challenging and absorbing Festival drama.

Golem, the 1927 Company’s multi-media live action phantasmagoria about humankind and its machines, is as sardonic as it is imaginative. Written and directed by Suzanne Andrade using film, clay animation and designs by Paul Barritt, Golem takes the Jewish folk tale of a man who makes a creature out of clay to be his servant, and spins it into a retro 1980s setting with strong 21st century relevance.

Geeky code analyst for Binary Backup, Robert Robertson (Shamira Turner) leads a drab live in the shadow of his sister, Annie (Esme Appleton) until he buys a life size clay Golem from his dodgy inventor friend Phil Sylocates. Things begin to change as the Golem develops a mind of its own, or rather, promotes the messages of media and advertising, and begins moulding his owner’s increasingly conformist tastes and attitudes. In no time Robert draws away from his workmates, leaves his sister’s punk band The Underdogs and, after trading up to the Golem Version 2, starts listening to U2.

The swipes at Apple, Microsoft and franchised fashion are clear enough, but this production makes its strongest point by the sheer exuberance, originality and anti-digital aesthetic of its colourful, kaleidoscopic visual style. With heavy eye makeup, black-framed 1920s spectacles and frizzy wigs the performers look like silent movie actors. The zany music is played live by composer Lillian Henley and percussionist Will Close. Golem is a funny-sad cautionary tale that gets us hoping outside the square. It is a final week Festival highlight.

Murray Bramwell

“Marriage viewed uncomfortably and kaleidoscopic cautionary tale”, The Australian, March 10, 2016, p.15.

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