So, this particular play was in a location and a theatre I had never been to before except on stormy days to watch the green waves crash into the pier (sounds poetic, but it was completely by accident. It was pouring down, so Daniel and I ran into the Box Office and up the stairs. I love coincidence.) We were at the Wharf, Theatre 1.
THE CITY written by MARTIN CRIMP.
A review from by Kevin Jackson is the best, and closest to my own perception as I have found:
Maybe written as a companion piece to Mr Crimp’s play THE COUNTRY (2000), THE CITY (2008) concerns a young couple, Clair (Belinda McClory) and Christopher (Colin Moody) living in a city under the contemporary pressures of job insecurity, and the influence of a world full of war, torture and terrorism, of all kinds – close at hand and far away. It reveals a world of the fracturing social block of ‘marriage’ and the residual inheritance that the children are dealing with – unfinished ‘music’.
The play begins ordinarily enough with the husband asking the wife simply “How was your day?” Clair replies and takes us to amazing and disturbing incidents concerning a meeting with a stranger at Waterloo station called Mohammed who tells her of torture he has suffered and the abduction of his child by his sister-in law. Ordinary lives obtruded by the extraordinary. “How was your day?” In a following scene, a neighbour, Jenny (Anita Hegh), a nurse comes to ostensibly complain about the noise of the couple’s children, keeping her awake, an everyday problem possibility, but digresses into the harrowing telling of her husband’s experiences as a doctor in the army in a war zone in the drain pipes of another city. Later, again, we meet Christopher with a little girl (his daughter?) (Georgia Bowery), dressed in a nurse’s uniform identical to that of Jenny, the neighbour, who recites some very ‘blue’ limericks. (Where are the “Henson” police?). In the last scene we meet her again, again, identically dressed as Jenny, in a different outfit, including precipitous pink high, high heels, climbing to a baby grand piano where she attempts to play music. The little girl falters and tries again. And again – unfinished music. Before this final image we learn, Pirandello-like, that none of this is necessarily real. It all may be the creative writing of Clair in her diary as she tries to cope, her profession being that of a translator – she flees to attempting to create her own world. To create a city. To translate her experiences into a fictional order, but the diary finishes as unfinished musing – an unfinished tune. A feeling of desolation, of been unsettled, anxious could be the final take away of this piece.
Benedict Andrews (the Director) and the Set Designer (Ralph Myers) have created a black carpeted proscenium breadth of seven ungainly high steps, which the actors clamber upon with difficulty and unsafely (metaphor, perhaps!!). The lighting by Nick Schlieper dependently warm and comforting and atmospheric, the Sound (Alan John) mostly apparent in lengthy blackouts of urban noise and foot sounds, soothing in identification. The costumes by Fiona Crombie beautifully controlled and telling in their details. The acting style that is demanded by the set design choice is a heightened naturalistic creation that is then warped and delivered mostly out front and at a demanding speed. (The London production some 80-90 minutes in contrast to the 60 odd minutes at Wharf 2.) The character’s interaction with each other is rare and supposed. We, the audience have a reading of the play that is a bit like a staged radio play. (Act one of THE WAR OF THE ROSES!!!!!). In fact if you close your eyes the impact of the play may be much the same with your eyes open. Physically or image wise not much, other than the costume design, is useful. The writing is mostly absorbingly interesting. I am not sure, in this production, whether it is good playwrighting? It is a fairly arid, and event wise, dull evening in the theatre. I feel, having read the play, that I gained no new knowledge by having given an evening at the theatre to experience it again.
Firstly, the set detail is definitely important. After ecstatically realising I was in the front row (I assumed I would be looking upwards at the actors moving above me as I sat in a pit-like seat) I observed the stage. That is to say, I observed I could not see the stage. See, the construction of the stage was unique compared to anything I’ve seen before. There were steps, each about a metre tall, covered in blue fabric so their steps barely made a sound. I could only see three.
Then the lights dimmed, and absolute darkness surrounded each of us.
Boom. The lights come on, and Belinda McClory as the mother Clair stands blinking, breathing, see above the audience. She turns to the side, startled, and Colin Moody as the father Christopher comes on set. In this first scene there was seriously the most amusing natural dialogue I’d ever heard. I would be great written down, and as Jackson said, you could have closed your eyes and the play would have been as stimulating as ever. It was the sort of dialogue that humanises the first page of a boring script and interests you. But of course, the set and the day and the ambience – there was no need to engage my further, I was hooked. The conversation was generic, about the day, and while Christopher spoke cynically about the insecurity of his job, Clair just sat there, primly adjusting the fabric of her pants. The Desperate Housewife vibe was coming through. Cardigan, ironed pants, sleek hair, expression. I think the characters were absolutely fantastic. Their attitude was so … contained, which made it even more fantastic when they let go and yelled at each other.
And this is where the story begins. McClory begins to reiterate her day, stopping, starting, smiling, rationalising. Because you see, she is telling a story. She’s weaving the story of Mohammed the renowned author – well, renowned by the sorts of people who read – well, read his type of books, in any case – and his daughter. The daughter in the pink jeans. Had she seen the girl? Of course, she saw the pink jeans. She noticed them because the girl was being dragged – no, not dragged. Just walking rather hurriedly, clinging to the arm of a nurse. Yes, she remembered the nurse distinctly. The nurse was Mohammed’s sister-in-law! And then Mohammed gave Clair the journal – journal, my dear? – Yes, pink journal to write in, you see!
And then boom, gone. We, the audience, are surrounded in darkness again.
The most extraordinary thing happened. Christopher goes from wearing a three-piece-suit to grey tack pants, yellow polo shirt and slippers. Fantastic. I think this was the most visually amazing thing – the costume change. Yes, small things amuse small minds.
A new character is introduced. Anita Hegh as a nurse from next door comes over, complaining about the noise the children make, playing in their garden. Her story was so interesting. Her husband was a medic in the war, you see, but the war was not futile because it was a secret war, in The City. Underneath the city they fought against their consciences, killing those who ‘cling to life’. All those human bodies down in the sewers that ‘cling to life’, a pregnant mother and her baby, clinging to life. Suddenly out of the darkness, the young soldier’s head, fighting in the meaningful secret war, is bashing in by a brick, the baby a decoy. Trust no one. Fight for yourself, for everything, but know you fight in the dark. I don’t know exactly what I was supposed to get from her character, because I’m still a little confused about the denouement. But her performance was spectacular. She was neurotic when Christopher was around, cheery the next day, confused and sad, and understood in the final few moments when it was revealed. But I think she was my favourite performance.
When she first entered the house, as I said, we were in the front row. And the ground I stretched my legs into was their stage too. So she sat in front of me, and stared so intently at me, but through me, into her mind. It was very clever and unnerving and I couldn’t help but smile nervously. Slightly childish, but man. The proximity. I also noticed the nurse had black nail polish, which was a quirky detail.
The other member of the cast was, on our night, eight year old Georgia Bowry, the daughter. Her scene (after the boom :D) opened to her signing a nursery rhyme about the ‘fucking cunts’ that her mother had taught her (Jackson was, uh, a little more restrained when he called it ‘blue’ that’s for sure.) I liked the little girl, although sometimes her words we a little rushed and her attempt to project resulted in her mouth… getting in the way. I love the language of theatre, the different accents. Although I’ve noticed this isn’t always present – take When the Rain Stops Falling, that was incredibly natural and Australian and blunt. The language, in other words, added to the whole play, but the little girl struggled a little bit. Her apathy and young disinterest and anger and… resolute defiance. It reminded me of my own family.
This is probably why I was so much more depressed about the suburban focus than a few people. The makeup of the theatre crowd was me, disconnected from my family due to the effort it takes to remain – literally – sane, and four others who business I won’t go into, but also deal with a few family issues of their own. Basically the point I’m making it that my mouth was hanging open as Christopher played, loved, hugged, kissed - or tried -to kiss his wife, but was refused. It didn’t hit home but the family breakdown and Clair’s anger and manipulation definitely made me very sad.
I was, in all, very impressed with the play itself. But the thoughts on the destruction of suburbia were what got me the most. Take American Beauty, or Revolutionary Road. Those movies get to me especially because, in reverse, I live the destruction at the end of the American Dream but still want the façade myself. I still want the stereotype, the picket fence. The children, the dog, the runners in front of the door. I want all of that, even though every play or movie I’ve seen containing this ends in tears.
I believe in cognition. I believe if Christopher viewed his situation differently, accepted rather than rejected the situation – I think this is when people can live with love. The anger in the play was such a rejection of the situation – the situation that, even with her stories about the City, Clair could not control. I don’t know if I’m capable of loving people enough to survive in a struggling world, I think I’ll end up similar to the characters in the play. I think it’s the weakness of humanity that we best mimic in our art.
I believe that is why I enjoyed The City so immensely. I enjoy satires and caricatures of society, but enjoy the dark takes on society all the more.
So, I generally get tickets for $30 because I’m under 30, and The City was one of these. The next STC production will probably be $30 as well (I’m thinking Poor Boy, Sydney Theatre), but A Streetcar Named Desire with Cate Blanchett was $80, and it was like @.@ in the light of the seven hours of War of the Roses which was only $60. Sheesh.
Season pass for Christmas, please.