23 June 2013

Mini review: Herding Cats

Herding Cats
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
7 June 2013
Red Stitch
to 7 July

Herding Cats slipped through my review net. I enjoyed it and will always say "see Red Stitch" no matter what a review says. But I couldn't put my finger on what bugged me about it.

UK writer Lucinda Coxon's very funny and very dark play about isolated 20-somethings taps into the loneliness of living in a society that lets us interact at superficial levels and the dangers of disregarding the superficial as harmless. I loved how she drew us into a confrontation that would never happen and how she took her characters much further and into a much darker place than I imagined it would.

The balance between black humour and social commentary was teetering a bit, but the direction and performances were great, with all finding a personal connection to the story. The design was a bit dull, but didn't distract from the work.

One of the accents annoyed me because I could hear the actor behind the accent and it hadn't settled yet. And I don't always understand the choice to use an accent.

Begin rant.

We do Asian plays without Asian accents and the last show at Red Stitch, About Tommy, was done without accents and still set in Zagreb. I haven't seen a Chekov done with a Russian accent or a Pirandello with a Kingswood-Country-style bloody-wog accent. European opera is sung without accents. Maybe – I mean, of course – it's because they'd sound offensively racist. So why are our theatres so attached to performing UK and American plays with accents? Unless it's intrinsic to the meaning of the text, they distract and put the focus on the actor, rather than the work. (And, no matter how good they are, I suspect they make native speakers cringe. Remember Meryl Streep's Aussie accent in Evil Angels? Few are better than she is, and she still got it wrong.)

End rant.

But this accent would easily settle in a day or two and it didn't take anything away from the work or the character.

I've finally figured out what it was. I could see the actors judging the characters. It's a tiny and very subtle thing, but it's up to the audience to judge the characters. In this style of realistic theatre, if the actors are agreeing with us about their characters, the characters don't live. They have to be seen to be doing what they believe is best. No one wakes up and thinks, "I'm going to make a very stupid choice today".

But my advice is to read the raves about this show or ignore us all, see it anyway and make up your own mind.

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