28 October 2007

(The Pilot Version of…) Something to Die For

(The Pilot Version of…) Something to Die For
Store Room Theatre Workshop
28 October 2007
The Store Room

“This is a risk”, declares The Author midway though (The Pilot Version of….) Something to Die For. I am thrilled that the Store Room Theatre Workshop (SRTW) program gives its artists the opportunity and freedom to take these risks to explore and create original, complex and relevant theatre.
(The Pilot Version of….) Something to Die For is written by SRTW associate artist Ross Mueller. It’s is a monologue by the playwright, who has written himself as the character – but it will always be performed by an actor. In this case David Tredinnick is playing Ross Mueller.

You can see this simply for Tredinnick’s superb performance, which is ably guided by director Aiden Fennessy. Tredinnick has a difficult script to work with, but continually keeps the audience personally engaged and fascinated. He demonstrates the difference between a good actor and someone who knows his craft so well that we can no longer see the work and the skill.

The structure of this work references David Hare’s Via Dolorosa. Don’t know it? Sir David himself performed it at the Melbourne International Arts Festival in 2004. Patrick Dickson presented the Australian premiere at the Festival of Contemporary Arts in Canberra in 2001. Missed it? Hare wrote The Blue Room (that play where our Nicole and then our Sigrid got their kit off) and Stuff Happens (that play about American politicians). What about his screenplays? Plenty (Meryl was in it) or The Hours (the one where our Nicole won the Oscar for having the big nose – and Meryl was in it). Come on – Sir David Hare. If you go to the theatre, you must know him.

If you know Hare, the premise of the work is Mueller meeting Hare at a workshop in London.

If you don’t and you’re wondering why on earth I’m raving on about David Hare, I’m guessing this is how you’d will feel watching (The Pilot Version of….) Something to Die For.

It’s no secret that I love Ross Mueller’s writing. He understands theatre and why we keep going back. He writes personal, honest and heart moving works that resonate way beyond their intended audience. I reckon he’s as good as David Hare.

Very early in the piece, Mueller tells us that he believes that anyone who goes to the theatre is intelligent and that he’s openly prejudice towards the intelligent. Kind of makes you feel special and much more inclined to admire and laugh along with the jokes. I admit that I caught myself laughing at a reference I didn’t understand, because I didn’t want to appear ignorant. (Thanks to Google I now know about playwright Martin Crimp – and will read his work.)

I understood (The Pilot Version of….) Something to Die For. I was intrigued and laughed out loud, because I know Via Dolorosa. I know it very well. I’ve read it, saw Dickson’s performance, Hare’s performance, heard Hare discuss it and even have a copy of Acting Up – Hare’s book about writing and performing it – which I’ve read.

I know this play isn’t really about David Hare or Ross Mueller. It sensitively, accurately and creatively deals with issues of depression and male identity. It delightfully and over-intelligently satirises and references its own form, theatre writing, Melbourne independent theatre and the playwright. The emotional core and structure of the work is so strong, but it is getting obscured by its own intelligence. It’s trying too hard to be clever, searching too hard for metaphors and trying so hard to connect with its audience that it may be pushing them away. The excellent writing is getting in the way of the story telling.

I’m afraid I have to quote myself here. This is what I wrote on this site about Mueller’s astonishing Construction of the Human Heart.

“Mueller does write for a very specific demographic. Mid-30s to early-40s / living in inner city Melbourne (preferably north) / over educated / know too much about theatre (please laugh at the “it’s David Hare, not Williamson” joke) / struggling with your own creative career while trying to earn an income / loath the concept of Ikea, but have too many Ikea items in your house / and have experienced the kind of love that leaves you empty and broken at its loss. Fortunately that is most people I know (except some of us live on the south side of the river). Construction of the Human Heart is written for now and written for us. In doing so, Mueller shows how honest, personal writing can connect with universal themes. Even if you don’t get every cultural reference and joke, the emotion of the work sustains it.”

My concern with his recent work The Ghost Writer (MTC 2007) was that Mueller was writing to such a broad audience that the work was losing the personal emotional resonances. My concern with (The Pilot Version of….) Something to Die For is that he is writing to such a sub-section of his audience that it’s losing the universal emotional resonances.

If I had to review this review I’d say. “It is over wordy, far too long, needs a ruthless edit, loses itself in its own structure and seems so intent on proving the author’s own credibility, intelligence and knowledge that it forgets about its intent and its audience.” I guess I’m trying to create the same sense of frustration I felt with Mueller.

I enjoyed (The Pilot Version of….) Something to Die For and am sure it will grow and change from this season into an amazing work. However, in its current state I’m hesitant to recommend it.

This reveiw originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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