20 September 2010

Review: The City

The City
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
3 September  2010
Red Stitch Theatre
to 25 September


Fortunately there's still time to see The City at Red Stitch before the Melbourne Fringe takes all our free nights away.

If you haven't experienced a world created by UK playwright Martin Crimp, Red Stitch defty grasp the threatening tone, the unsettling humour and unnatural naturalistic style that make Crimp one of the most talked about writers, who is either loved or loathed.

Director Adena Jacobs says "I wouldn't dare attempt to explain The City. It is a puzzle not meant to be solved - entirely."

The puzzling mood begins with Dayna Morrissey's design and Danny Pettingill's lighting that brings dimension and scope to the tiny stage making it contradict itself by looking huge and feeling claustraphobic.

Clair (Fiona Macleod) works as a translator and has a comfortable life with office worker husband Christopher (Dion Mills) and her children (we see the daughter in a role shared by Fantine Banulski and Georgie Hawkins).  Living in an apartment over looking their garden is Jenny (Meredith Penman), a nurse whose husband is away at a secret war where he sees people cling to life. Jenny doesn't like hearing the noisy kids during the day and she looks remarkably like a woman Clair described from her morning where she met a famous writer at the train station.

Crimp never lets his world balance.  His not-right world is less obvious than rhinoceroses running around the streets, but just as perfectly confusing.  (Crimp is also known for his translations of Absurd king Ionesco's work, including Rhinoceros.) From the way his characters talk over each other with dialogue that indulges in repetition, or the audience trying to figure out how many kids are locked in the room without a key,  The City continually draws attention to its artifice and makes its audience re-think, re-interpret and re-remember everything they thought they understood.

The game pays off beautifully, but the satisfaction of finishing the puzzle is slightly soured by the realisation that the story was a game that didn't have all the love and self-reflection that we adore in theatre.

However, this production is such a winner, because Jacobs and her actors bring the heart back to the work. Each time I see Macdonald on a stage, she captures the essence of her characters and brings a depth and connection that makes me forget that I'm watching an actor. As Crimp's world reminds us that it's not real, Macdonald brings an emotional grounding to Clair that lets her sit in the centre of the whirlpool. Her scenes with Penman are riveting. They are one with Crimp's world, making every oddness and contradiction seem as natural breathing. There's a subtle difference in Mills performance, which is bloody good, but it doesn't feel part of the world. It's like Christopher, as a character, is in on the solution with Crimp, leaving Mills playing the end from the beginning, which feels more comfortable as the story progresses and his behaviour becomes more extreme.

The City is on for another week and might sell out, so it's best to book rather than waiting to see if you're in the mood.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com

Here is Theatre Notes' terrific discussion about the The City.

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