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Sunday 8 April 2012

DARLINGHURST THEATRE & FISHY PRODUCTIONS ‘Time Stands Still’ dissected by me

Last night I caught ‘Time Stands Still’ at the Darlinghurst Theatre, directed by Kim Hardwick and it got me thinking, why is a strictly realist piece so unfashionable these days?
Donald Margulies’ play is a masterful, well-constructed piece with intelligent dialogue, interesting characters and relationships and I think Hardwick has done a solid job in honouring this lively, high stakes provoking play. She has not inserted herself into the play and made it about her ego, her tricks or morphed it into something else. Instead Hardwick has taken the integrity of the work and trusted the writer’s words to deliver for the audience, gently manipulating the actors, design and effects to focus on the characters and their existentialist dilemmas.
Perhaps that’s why we don’t see as many realist plays anymore. What director wants to let the playwright’s work be the focus in this world of director as auteur? How passé of Hardwick. What was she thinking?

I know I have referenced national styles and their development so let me segue way briefly into American Realism. Margulies play captures this style in its tempo, setting and what is happening right now, just as some of the best American writers before him have done and are found now in his contemporary playwrighting peers, like LaBute, Lindsay-Abaire or Letts. The psychological interplay of tactics in securing our own desires is given a real context and when done well, gives us a chance to reflect on our own choices in life and what we've done to get there. This is all found in 'Time Stands Still'.

‘Time Stands Still’ explores the crossroads of living a conventional life as opposed to diving into the voyeuristic world of recording the horrors of humanity at war. Protagonist photographer, Sarah Goodwin (Rebecca Rocheford Davies) is brought home by her long term partner and fellow journalist and writer, James (Richard Sydenham) after being injured in a roadside blast in Iraq. Then enter Sarah’s agent Richard (Noel Hodda) with his much younger pregnant girlfriend Mandy (Harriet Dyer) and watch the complicated personal choices unfold as they recuperate, rebuild and redirect their lives. It is an examination of what defines us, our deal breakers, sacrifices and compromises or do we accept that the journey we want may leave us taking that path alone in order to be true to our desires. Can we give other people what they want and at what cost? It’s more complicated than that in so many ways- this is a play with layers.
In terms of acting, the women in this play are outstanding in presenting the complexities and dichotomy of feminist choices. Margulies writes his women well and Rocheford Davies and Dyer do them great justice in their portrayals. Hodda and Sydenham’s characters were generally well-executed although sometimes I felt they lapsed slightly in nailing belief, especially when subtlety was called for. The other criticism would have been the American accent work that felt contrived and inconsistent and sometimes detracted from otherwise strong performances. Once again, the women of the play had a mastery of control here and made the play much more believable and built tension with skill and honest deliberation. The boys did pull the big moments out of the bag most of the time and certainly you couldn’t criticise their energy, focus or intensity.
And as a side note, the last time I saw Noel Hodda on stage was when I was 16 and at high school and saw him play Kenny in ‘The Removalists’ in the mid-80's. It was one of the first times I saw live theatre and suddenly engaged me in a way I had rarely experienced before- three dimensions, live action- a voyeur of the slice of life. It excited me. Up until then, plays had been books you read in class taking turns having your class mates butcher characters and lines in their lacklustre, monotonous reading until you wanted to poke your eyes out with a stick. It is fair to say that seeing live theatre started my own journey of living and loving this form and it is why I am so passionate about making sure theatre is accessible to the next generation. So just a little shout out to Noel Hodda, Williamson and even the designers of that play back in 84. I still have Kenny's t-shirt of "Get Loose With The Moose" burned into my memory.
Back to 'Time Stands Still', Lucilla Smith's set design, constructed by Michael Watkins was beautifully crafted in creating this Williamsburg loft, an open, trendy space, capturing the essence of this world and letting the characters interact with and within their environment with natural ease. Teegan Lee’s lighting also falls into this category and I loved some of the silhouettes cast in the window and its changing time shifts and seasonal variety.
I don’t think you’ll leave this play with burning visceral impressions or thinking it’s the most powerful thing you’ve ever seen (perhaps that’s the other reason realist drama has played second fiddle to the contemporary aesthetic) but I definitely think you’ll get your money’s worth, you’ll be supporting some good independent theatre and you will engage in a thought-provoking piece.
And that should never go out of fashion.


  1. Hi Jane, thanks for the lovely comment I just wanted to let you know that the set was designed by Lucilla Smith, Michael Watkins did the construction.

    1. Thanks for letting me know. Kudos to Lucilla- I will adjust the review to reflect that. And a big thumbs up to all involved in the show. I hope you manage to fill the house.