19 November 2008

Death in White Linen

Death in White Linen
Full Tilt and High Performance Company
19 November 2008
Fairfax Studio, the Arts Centre


The Full Tilt program finds the best independent theatre makers and lets them lose in the Arts Centre, so more people can see the wondrous works created in tiny venues across the country.

Death in White Linen was developed in 2003 at VCA and performed at La Mama earlier this year. Writer/performer Michael Dalley insists it’s all about “how you tell your story” and fortunately, he’s a compelling and very funny story teller.

In a balanced mix of sketch, narrative and song, Dalley plays all of the characters in a story that follows three generations of a family from post-war working class Liverpool to the pre-financial crisis property boom in Melbourne’s outer suburbs. He insists that it isn’t autobiographical, but there’s no doubt that it is his story.

As the likes of Barry Humphries prove, the snobbery and pretention of our suburban middle class is wonderful comic fodder, and each of Dalley’s characters has an authentic familiarity that is instantly recognised by anyone still coming to terms with their nouveau-posh suburban upbringing and schooling dominated by more class barriers than Marx ever dreamt of.

With stand outs like the “Mating habits of the bourgeoisie” song, the jolly undergraduate review, and his recollection of Melbourne at a time of ‘Einstein on the Beach, Kennet, colonic irrigation, South Bank and John Hewson’s fight back, Death in White Linen is on its way to even greater things.

Structurally and thematically, the work does need some shaping and a good script editor to help the narrative flow smoothly, take the “sketch show” feel away from it, tighten some of the characters and convincingly incorporate the title theme of death.

A decision also needs to be made about the role of the pianist. John Thorn is his standard fabulous self, but needs to be fully incorporated into the story, given a clear character or taken off-stage. As a semi-character and practical assistant, he was distracting, rather than enhancing. (And the time he got out a biro and wrote notes on the music when he thought no one was looking...If you are on the stage, someone is looking at you!)

Michael Dalley’s a total hoot and Death in White Linen is ready to be enjoyed with a brandy crusta or vermouth and dry; it just needs some development before it’s ready for its next big step.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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