Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Gloria, Griffin Theatre Company

Benedict Andrews has been away from Australian theatre for a while now - his last production here was "The Maids" in 2013, and he's since been working internationally, most noticeably the Gillian Anderson-starring production of "Streetcar Named Desire" (which screened here as part of the NT live series). He's a bit of a controversial figure - his reinventions of classic texts (along with Simon Stone's work in the early 2010s) tended to raise the hackles of a lot of conservative theatre critics who found him more destructive than constructive. Personally I liked three out of the four productions I saw of his - "Measure for Measure", "The Seagull" and "Streetcar". The only one that was a bit of a mess was his attempt at an original work, "Every Breath" - at the time, I remember thinking it suffered a lot from him directing his own writing - some interesting directing images were sabotaged by the writing's imprecision, and some good poetic writing was sabotaged by unclear or overly schematic directing.

"Gloria" is his second original play to reach Australian stages, and it continues his stylistic intention of writing plays that are strong on the poetics, not so much on the "easily comprehensible plot that moves forwards at a regular pace". And for those of you who remember my review of "Under Milk Wood", that does tend to be one of my less favourite types of theatre. Though, as in that case, this does lead to virtuoso staging, provided by Lee Lewis.

In terms of plot, "Gloria" is about an actress who's participating in a production dealing with a traumatic event, and as she enacts it, she finds her sense of identity falling apart. Marta Dusseldorp plays the main character, and manages the multiple emotional and personality shifts with aplomb. She's a magnetic central presence who you're engaged in even as whatever the action is that's going on around her can prove enigmatic or elusive. The cast surrounding her play multiple roles - friends, family, co-stars, attackers, neighbours, and equally manage the multiple personalities they're required to don.

Lee Lewis' staging is unusually spectacular for the tiny Stables stage - morphing, using all the projected multi-media technical bells and whistles while also keeping the focus on the actors whether they're in single monologue, complicated scenes that cross multiple conversations simultaneously or bitchy backstage banter. If Andrew's script is a tad bewhildering, Lewis' staging knows where it is and what it's doing at any particular moment, which gives us enough to carry on through the play.

So this is a good production of a play that I'm not entirely sure I love, but am intrigued enough to consider worth watching. Put it in the "it's interesting" category.

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