I enjoy my adventures to the Old 505’s community space. Not only does life invade your senses upon entering an area clearly occupied with the seedy realism of local residents but I also love the notion of supporting, developing and exploring the experimental works that take place up there on the fifth floor.
Sean O’Riordan’s most recent play (as writer, director and actor), ‘Apples and Pears’ was what took me to the Old 505 last Friday night. O’Riordan’s play captures a mix of Joe Orton, Edward Bond and a smattering of Harold Pinter to create a quasi-absurdist piece that revolves around Max (Geoff Sirmai), spurned lover now aged and looking to reconcile his criminal past with those who he had imprisoned, Judy (Deborah Jones) and Les (Sean O’Riordan) and their daughter Kristen (Eleanor Ryan).
The impressive set that fills the space is the first sign you’re seeing something invested in this text. Andrea Espinoza’s design makes us feel the first twinkling of Pinter is this crowded, decrepit flat that resembles a man who has hoarded his life away since the 1960’s. Its lack of colour, of personality and of life itself perfectly encapsulates Max. It is only the chess set and framed picture that suggest any kind of activity or connection to the world he has forfeited. Tony Youlden’s lights make us feel like this is a one bulb, dimly lit, dank and dirty flat and so before any character sets foot on the stage, we have already started crafting a narrative.
Sirmai’s opening monologue as Max contains lots of lovely potential but the premise of setting the wheels in motion of his liberation or castration and the signposting of his relationship with the 'queen' is not there yet. Max has been waiting and planning this moment for decades and for me the dialogue feels indulgent and forced more than serving the character and probably needs another draft to aid both functions effectively. I think part of the issue is that the opening monologue doesn’t quite tread the boards of absurdism (yet) nor realism so it’s slightly out of place and feels contrived so early in the piece. This didn’t stop me enjoying the show and it’s not an issue of commitment. This never faulted at any time during the two hour performance.
Also slightly strange was O’Riordan’s delivery of dialogue staring out into the audience. Without using direct eye contact with those he was trying to oppress, Les felt less than real and the threat of his power is as damp as the flat he's standing in. The physical moments of pulling teeth or playing with the hammer were terrific but I wish he looked at the other characters more than the glassy eyed expressions out to us.
The other thing not quite there yet are the ‘tilts’- those moments where the action or information suddenly shifts to reveal a twist or turn in events. O’Riordan’s script might be missing one more tilt, especially for the female characters and this might help reconcile why Judy would want to save Max, which felt undeveloped and unexplored. It seems to me she’s ready for independence and not looking to embark on throwing herself into another relationship with a man who essentially abandoned her so many years ago. Judy, especially with the powerful performance of Deborah Jones, is a manipulative dominatrix. I would have liked to have seen this followed through in the final tilts of ‘Apple and Pears’. It means that the ending doesn’t deliver the lovely finish it could but it still leaves us mostly satisfied. But I’m not a dramaturge (some would argue not even a reviewer) and so this is my opinion based on my reading of the play in production. Confession- it may partly be affected by the fairy floss martini I had before the show and my reputation as a one-pot screamer.
But it’s all positive from there. This show has one amazing thing to recommend it. Deborah Jones. She steals the show in delivery of dialogue, accent, energy, tactics and expression. In fact, the story really hits its strides when she enters the space, especially when Les (O’Riordan) enters and allows Judy to play with the dimensions of character. It’s a cast of experienced and talented performers. This play was an entertaining night out and one of the strongest original works staged in the Old 505 I’ve seen so far.
It may seem like I’ve cast more than a critical eye over this work but it’s given out of love. There is a lot to commend this play and I think its outing at the Old 505 will be the first of its many public incarnations. No doubt O’Riordan will keep refining this play until it’s exactly where it needs to be and then it’s going to be an enormous vehicle for all in it and will have a deserved decent run in bigger mainstream venues.
It is thoroughly refreshing, like a potent fairy floss martini, to see local talent in all its forms on the Sydney stage and hoorah for providing a solid base in writing and performing as offered in ‘Apples and Pears’. I tips me glass to you all.