Larrikin Ensemble Theatre
10 November 2009
Sometimes it is hard to understand why a beautifully written script by a proven and accomplished writer doesn’t leap off the stage as well as it jumps off the page.
Dina Ross wrote Trio as a response to a series of coincidental encounters with the work of three ‘genius’ artists who took their own lives. Her story is the death of fictional virtuoso Australian violinist Karl Munch, as told by his lover, his agent and his brother as they get dressed for Munch’s memorial service. It’s an honest reflection on the existence of artist as superstar and why it’s perhaps not a dream to aspire to.
In a mighty performance, Chris Bunworth (fluidly directed by Yvonne Virsik) is all three characters and brings a different response to the grief of each man. As each talk directly to the audience, the performance is at times confronting and confusing because it’s not clear, to the audience or the performer, who these men are talking to. As long as it is an actor talking to an audience, the audience are watching Chris ‘perform’, rather than being drawn into the grief and anger of these men.
However, this type of theatre starts and ends with the script. Trio is original and intriguing; the characters are complex, the craft is terrific and Ross creates some unforgettable images, like teenage Karl cutting himself to make the gift go away. But for all its goodness, I didn’t care about the men whose souls were aching, let alone why Karl died.
I could see plot, but I couldn’t see story. I couldn’t see the goals and motivations of the characters, didn’t know what drove them through each scene and I didn’t know what I was meant to wonder about. I appreciate that Ross wants the audience to make up their own minds about what happened, but the core of any great story is a question to draws us forward (Will Hamlet kill himself? Will Dorothy get home? Will Matt Preston drool?) Were we meant to wonder if it was suicide/murder/accident, if Karl was happy, or if he did it so the men he loved to use the ‘currency’ of his death?
Or maybe there just wasn’t room for the audience’s empathy. We love great stories because of how they make us feel, not because of how the characters feel.
Writers love writing words and actors love saying them, but audiences like stories told with as few words as possible. Every word has to earn its place in a script and audiences don’t need to be told what they already know. We knew that Karl shut his eyes when he played and didn’t need to be told again; each character showed us how they felt, but then went and told us anyway – we knew Robbie “was too proud to let him see how upset I was”. No matter how beautiful the words or how good the performance, it’s frustrating to be told what we already know and it stalls the story.
Trio is on its way to the USA. It’s a good show, but could be great with some brave editing that would leave fewer words, but would leave space for the audience to create their own emotional response.