Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The Blind Giant is Dancing, Belvoir

Stephen Sewell may be one of the best Australian Playwrights who is also a wildly paranoid loon. His plays engage in the big political questions of our age - whether a person can really seek power for the greater good or whether they will be corrupted, how the fight for righteousness is inevitably a compromised and human one - but simultaneously approach the line of the batshit insane as characters get caught up in deeper and deeper lunacy. In the case of "Blind Giant" this is mostly some ranting about the part of the CIA in manipulating Australian Politics (which does seem like personal paranoia writ large) - but there's also a great sense of building tension over two hours 45 minutes of drama with a true epic scale, taking us from the height of executive boardrooms to the factory floor, and from inner-city trendies to quiet suburban homes.

What survives most strongly in Sewell's 1983 play is the journey of its central character, Allen Fitzgerald - an idealist who gets all too willingly caught up in the game of winner-takes-all politics, who is betrayed by and in return betrays his family, his wife, his beliefs and himself in a chase for power. Dan Spielman keeps him remarkably human, even as he's increasingly isolated and bitter. It's a solid centre for the action to revolve around.

Elsewhere in the cast, Yael Stone matches him as his slightly-underwritten wife Louise - Sewell doesn't entirely make her motives clear but she stands solidly as a conscience figure without being an artificial saint or simply a set of agitprop beliefs. Zahra Newman as his lover Rose has some of the more purple bits of dialogue as a femme-fatale figure, but keeps everything just the right side of believably, Geoff Morrell as his principal rival has a great mixture of cynicism and passion. There's 9 other actors all of whom engage in rich supporting performances keeping the ebbs and flows of the story roaring along to a shattering conclusion.

Eamon Flack's production is fast-moving, tense and visually spectacular. Dale Ferguson's set is dominated by a wall of lights that can project multiple images while also being see-through at various times, but uses the Belvoir space cleverly.

This is an engaging, tense, gut-wrenching evening of drama played at full roar by a company at the height of its powers. If this is the official launch of the Flack era at Belvoir, it's a cracking good launch.

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