Wednesday, 4 May 2016

The Great Fire, Belvoir

A big cast drama on broad national themes. It's the ambition for the Great Australian Drama, and it's brought many a playwright unstuck as they don't quite live up to the hype. Kit Brookman is the latest young playwright to fall victim to it, and the difficulty may be generational. Wheras Belvoir's last show, "Blind Giant" was easily able to capture its time and place and engage in big questions about the country at large, "The Great Fire" falls a little flat. Admittedly, it's attempting something a little different - a family drama with the national themes implied, rather than a grand melodrama that spreads from factory floor to penthouses, but still - there's a crucial failure of conviction to realise and engage with any of the questions that Brookman is aiming for. Gesturing in the direction of a theme isn't enough - you have to plow into it and examine it from all sides, create genuine theatrical energy. THis is more a gentle amble through some vague thoughts, and as such it doesn't really cut the mustard.

Which is a pity, as this is a show with strong resources, and the theme of how generational wealth has become concentrated in the Boomers is notably current. But by having the strongest casting in the roles of the boomers, the argument becomes terribly lopsided in their favour. Geoff Morell and Genevieve Picot pick up the show and run away with it as the parents whose success shames their children, and Peter Carroll and Lynette Curran clear up most of the rest of it in their Act Three appearance as Morell's parents (with Sandy Gore picking up the remainder as their artistic neighbour).

Perhaps part of the issue is that by having many of the characters be theatre professionals, it all feels a bit inside baseball. But at the same time, we don't really get any sense of what kind of theatre the various people are presenting - the closest we get is a vague suggestion Eden Falk's Michael may be a bit of an enfent terrible a la certain of Belvoir's recent directors, but even there the writing isn't willing to go very deep in getting a sense of what his art is like.

It isn't two-and-a-half hours of tedium - the family interractions do build nicely, particularly during acts three and four (of a five act play) and there's a nice sense of humour going along. But it's not a play that really gets under the skin of its characters or into the meat of its arguments, which means it's mildly interesting rather than compelling.

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