05 July 2011

Review: Turns

Christine Dunstan Productions
29 July 2011
Playhouse, the Arts Centre
to 9 July
then to Qld and WA

The chance to see legends Reg Livermore or Nancye Hayes is a good enough excuse to see anything, so having them both on stage  is more than enough reason to see Turns, especially as it is also written and directed by Reg.

I first saw Reg in one of the Betty Blokk Buster shows in the 1980s. I'm pretty sure this was my first taste of satirical and off-colour drag and, even if I really was too young to get most of it, it pretty much set my standard and my taste. For that, and for Barnum, he will always be one of my favourites. And the always-wonderful Nancye is a performer who loves and respects her audiences so much that she never has a moment on the stage when you're not completely with her.

Described as a music hall of the mind, Turns blends a nostalgic and loving look at vaudeville and "he's behind you" panto with a dark understanding of how our minds create new truths to deal with our realities.

Marjorie (Hayes) tells us how she was once the belle of the Sydney stage, but she now lives in a lonely North Sydney flat with her long-suffering son Alistair (Livermore) and dreams of having her coffin drawn by two dozen pantomine horses. Their tale is told through two monologues as each tell us their stories, as they see them.

Marjorie's language of non-stop malapropisms and puns is worthy of The Bard himself, whose spirit must be jealous that he wrote too early to use the likes of FJ Holden Uteruses and "as God is my wireless." And her complex and heart-breakingly demented mind is realised in Matthew Aberline's exquisite costumes that are full of humour and colour and confusion.

Gently guided by director Tom Healy, both performers show us the pain and frustrations of these unforgettable characters, and they temper the sadness with the type of humour that lets us cope with anything that life unfairly throws at us. If we can't laugh, what hope do we have?

Their story is beautiful and sad and so needs to be told, but its telling lacks the dramatic momentum so needed on a stage. By telling their stories separately, we miss the opportunities to see the tension and painful drama between them.  So much of what Alistair confesses to us was already clear from Marjorie's story, so there aren't enough of those heart-dropping moments of revelation.

Turns is an original, darkly funny and brave work that lets two of our greatest stars remind us why that are so great, but I'd so love to see it with a re-write that brings the two of them together so we could see more of the painful memories of the love that keeps them together.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com

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