This play has something engaging about it, especially in its narrative. Rick Viede has written quite a clever play and it’s probably a worthy winner of the 2011 Griffin Award. It tells the story of the fake autobiography and the public’s insatiable need for the ‘misery memoir’ and the more graphically disturbing and shocking, the more we love it. It’s an examination of exploitation, ambition, transformation and power.
The script is good- well worth a read if you don’t see the show. It’s got a couple of jumps in narrative so at times things are suddenly revealed or change and we don’t feel like the shift was adequately signposted but I’m not sure whether the minor flaws are in the writing or in Lewis’ style of directing.
I’ve seen a few of Lee Lewis’ shows and her style seems to focus on sucking the emotion out of the first half (an attempt at Epic style?) by playing things almost presentational over representational. This means there seems to be a connection lost between audience and characters early on, dialogue can be hammered out at a million miles an hour and delivered (with her design choices) in monotonous, discordant force or like a clinical transaction. Lewis saves the pathos for the end, contrasting the choices of the first half. I guess (in a Mother Courage and Her Children kind of way), Brecht would have suggested it was to focus on the ideas and not the catharsis of the characters’ journeys. But I think the ideas are caught up in the journey of those characters and by distancing myself from the stakes for those involved, it actually takes away some of the power of the narrative and its ideas.
But I do see the satire of Viede’s work and the absurdity of the situation itself and Lewis has played on the heightened sense of ambition and drive of the characters with some success. It just feels like it’s not always in control because sometimes, too much is just too much. And this is certainly evident in some of the acting. If you don’t let vulnerability creep in till the end, that is a hard ask for any role or actor and there is certainly varied success in this show.
It takes a while to warm to Miri/Currah (Shari Sebbens) at the start. We then see her transform into the role created for her (as Currah) but the reality is we don’t sense any tension from her situation until she really is abused. Sebbens has energy and intensity but is played as unlikeable, even as she dances around the hotel room in childlike excitement. So as she is played as ambitious and hard from the first moment, her transformation is lessened. I think this is more a reflection of the directorial vision that Sebbens’ skill as a performer.
Glenn Hazeldine as Ant does try to bring a gentleness to his role that is contrasted later by the dark and distressed obsession he has trying to regain control of his work. Hazeldine is the strongest of the cast and his years of experience are evident.
The two roles that feel out of place in regards to interpretation are Ronnie (Sally McKenzie) and Tyrelle (Charles Allen). Tyrelle’s bouncy flamboyancy at the start, the gay queen archetype, suddenly shifts to a much more sinister, unhinged role and then to the man in control of all of the other players on stage. It was a difficult transition to reconcile (writing or directorial?) I don’t know if I believe his behaviour and hatred of Currah can be so tied to his actions because he felt betrayed by her lack of authenticity. However, it did provide us with what I would consider to be the most powerful moment in the play as he pulls out the shotgun and proceeds to abuse and terrify those on stage and kudos to Sebbens and Allen for thoroughly committing to that difficult scene.
It is in that moment, after laughing about the contrived abuse, we are forced to engage in the heightened brutality of ‘real’ abuse. I think Allen did a solid job trying to reconcile the polarising attributes of this character and perhaps because the role felt more functional than real, this is exactly what was asked of him.
But it is the role of Ronnie, played by Sally McKenzie, that missed the mark. McKenzie’s hysterical portrayal of Ronnie- in crisis, in control, in negotiations, was played with little clarity. The archetype was pushed even further into the realm of ridiculousness and therefore we weren’t given the opportunity to relish in her role or function in the play. All you saw was the uncontrolled or disconnected hysteria. So it is not until the end when she starts to manipulate Ant do we see the potential was there to play any other stake than butch mercenary or victim of a hysterical breakdown. It felt like missed opportunities for Lewis and McKenzie to realise the dimensions that could have been accessed in this role.
All in all, I did enjoy this show. It’s not perfect and maybe I’ve been a bit hard on Lewis and the text is harder to realise than I could know. But there is a lot here to enjoy and the controversial and current issue is food for thought, with the intimacy of the Stables a good venue for ‘A Hoax’.