October 28, 2005

Incendiary Devices

by Joanna Murray-Smith
State Theatre Company
With Melbourne Theatre Company
Dunstan Playhouse

A Thing Called Snake
by Stephen House
Adelaide Festival Centre
October, 2005

Murray Bramwell

It is not hard to see why Bombshells has had successful seasons in Melbourne, Sydney, Toronto, Edinburgh and London’s West End – Caroline O’Connor is a champagne performer, as classy as she is spritzy. Written for her by Joanna Murray Smith, Bombshells is a vehicle for her energy and warm comedy. Tautly directed by Simon Phillips, with an apt set from Shaun Gurton and snazzy lighting from David Murray, it is six shows for the price of one as she sashays from suburban mother to dipsy diva in a series of portraits Murray-Smith has inflected with wit and sly detail.

Meryl Davenport, neurotic and frazzled mother of three is the starting point, a mile-a-minute narrative of her Herculean day – feeding, clothing, transporting and serenading her husband and brood. It is heavy on guilt and light on variation, though, and the linear story starts to flatten out too soon. Tiggy Entwhistle abandoned wife and cactophile is also somewhat one-dimensional. Tiggy, addressing an audience of succulent fanciers, is distracted by explosive recollections of her perfidious ex – it is funny, but Tiggy is too gormless to engage sympathy for her prickly dignity and the result is condescension.

The show really takes off with teenage prodigy Mary O’Donnell, kitted up backstage, complete with whiskers make-up ready to play a Cats cameo for a talent quest. Pipped by a rival with identical feline moves, she switches with comic aplomb to a Shaft sequence. O’Connor’s dance routines are as hilarious as they are dexterous and the vignette is ripe with affection for a show-biz hopeful.

The second half of Bombshells is a trio of winners. Theresa McTerry, the bride with cold feet, is the highpoint, Murray-Smith capturing sharply the obsession with The Wedding Day and the complete incomprehension of marriage itself. Winsome Webster, the widow among widows, who begins reading for the young blind student, is also well-judged and perceptive – with echoes of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads in its fine balances. Zoe Struthers, a composite of divas with a Z, is the zany headliner for Bombshells and in her timing, physical comedy and impressive vocals, Caroline O’Connor shows that she can not only do it all – she can dazzle us by making light of it as well.

A Thing called Snake comes from a very different part of the garden. Stephen House’s hipster parable is the book of Genesis meets Last Exit To Brooklyn on crystal meth. This is the familiar House style – ingénues caught up in a poisonous world of hustling, drugs, incessant profanity, rough sex and Bad Old People. Director Ross Ganf and his 4 Bux associates splendidly pull out all the stops. The Artspace is transformed with Geoff Cobham’s three tiered rig of screens and live action, video by Justin McGuinness, great thrumming sound by Peter Nielson, smart moves by Ninian Donald and soaring live tenor sax riffs from Chris Soole.

Vincent Crowley is the complete reptile as Snake. With make-up from Edward Burne-Jones and hair from the Wreck of the Hesperus, he insinuates into the wide-eyed life of Jason Klarwein’s Adam while Alexandra Schepisi’s Eve is elbowed on to the median strip. But not even all their excellent efforts, the red fetish costumes by razak and appliances from Fitch the Rubber Man, can distract us from the sturm und dreck of House’s dialogue.

Crowley does well with the ironies when they happen, but mostly this is camp melodrama which, in the improbable conclusion, dips into mawkish sentiment.
We all want things to end well, but this is really graunching the gears. I have heard that young audiences are loving this show and that’s great for the iNSPACE program. Perhaps it depends which bus stop you get on at, but A Thing called Snake feels like a ride some of us have taken before.

“Champagne O’Connor’ The Adelaide Review, No. 280, October 28, 2005, p.14.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment