Friday, 25 May 2012
BELVOIR’S ‘STRANGE INTERLUDE’ written & directed by Simon Stone & dissected by me
Once you spend the pre-requisite first 15 minutes of any Simon Stone written & directed show adjusting to his style- bleak, stark sets, graphic language and unbridled detail of sexual encounters from men- there is a lot to enjoy about his work (most of the time…I’m never letting him off the hook completely after 'Baal').
But there is a maturity surfacing in his most recent works which make some of his hallmark tricks (he really could have his own bingo card) feel like appropriate and sophisticated choices. You know this time I actually enjoyed the glass box. Go figure.
‘Strange Interlude’, adapted by Stone from Eugene O’Neill, takes the skeleton of O’Neill’s story and gives it quite a delectable fleshing out. In many ways, Stone’s is the better version, particularly for his contemporary audience. It explores the life of protagonist Nina Leeds (Emily Barclay) over her 25 year journey from her tumultuous youthful ideas of love into what can only be described as a middle-aged resolution of love as burdensome or tedious. Oh those middle-aged people…poor things…it comes as liberating when your lover leaves and your husband dies, doesn’t it?
Stone’s material is interesting and engaging and direction thoughtfully crafted but his smartest move was in the casting of a superb ensemble of actors.
In the first moments when Mitchell Butel as Charles Marsden delivers his monologue reminiscing about his own inadequate sexual encounters, I wonder why it is Butel has never really registered on my radar before. Butel is superb and this is again highlighted in his drunken stupor later in the play. Butel’s comic timing is genius. If you ever wondered about the adage of “no small parts, only small actors”, Butel will show you how to take a small role and knock it for six. Even actors who pop on to the stage for what feels like far too short a time have their moment to shine, Anthony Phelan, Kris McQuade, Eloise Mignon and Amos Armont. A special mention also to Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke who played young Gordon Evans on the night I saw it reminded me of those young boys that child protection legislation was invented for, so the impulse to hit him has to be overridden. He was one of those child actors who’s able to get right inside that character and relish the part. It felt truthful instead of rehearsed.
Barclay is also a surprisingly good casting as Nina. She felt a bit young to convey the time span required of the play but I think she managed it well and her petulant tantrums and desires were captured beautifully. The double header of Toby’s- Truslove as Sam Evans and Schmitz as Ned Darrell were such a highlight of this show. Truslove is a gifted improviser and I sensed there were wonderful moments of play when he was allowed freedom by Stone to take a moment to go there and this contrasted nicely with those moments of his transformation throughout the play, his personality moving from clay to brick. Toby Schmitz has also firmly established himself as an actor of clear, appropriate choices, a true ensemble actor who will give each moment the energy and power or subtlety it needs and asks of his fellow cast mates to step up to the plate to join him there. Schmitz could sell ice to Eskimos.
And this brings me back to Stone. He has written good material for his cast to sink their teeth into and as a director he has successfully brought it to life. Glass box and all.
Robert Cousins’ design of the play is a blank canvas- like a TV studio's neutral backdrop ready to project and build images of the scene and perhaps Nina’s life. Small set items are bumped in and out as needed to represent moments or memories, sometimes surreal and dreamlike. Damien Cooper’s lighting is used to either add warmth when required or spotlight the emptiness to intensify the scene. It allows us to see the scene and not the dressing and it works for this play.
This is a good play and you know, I always dip my toes into Stone’s work with some trepidation, but I was very happy to swim in this piece. Stone seems to understand the journey of love, lust, broken relationships, lost moments, moments that never were, choices you wish you hadn’t made and how to live with the choices you have made. Stone has crafted a complex vehicle and I think he’s firmly in the driving seat with a great set of companions, travelling towards a desired destination.
Just don’t take your hands off the wheel Simon…