Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Diving for Pearls, Griffin, Stables

Katherine Thompson's play was one of the major works of the 90s. Telling the big story of industrial decline and the collapse of the working class through the prism of the relationship between two middle-aged dreamers, it touched the heart and engaged the mind as we saw two people struggle with their hopes and dreams only to find them crushed by forces beyond their control and betrayed by corporate greed and economic rationalism. It's slipped into the background a little since then, but this revival returns it to life, animated in particular by the performances of Steve Rogers and Ursula Yovich as the two people under examination.

The play does suffer a little in that it attempted to predict what was coming in the South Coast during the 90s, but, like most predictions, missed the mark. As it turns out, steelworking shut down in Newcastle rather than Port Kembla, and the refocus towards tourism which is treated as a false hope turned out to be fairly successful. Still, the larger truths of how the invisible hand of market forces leaves people crushed behind it remains true. It's also true that the play keeps a lot of the rage buried for quite some time - people I came to thought the first act played almost entirely as domestic romantic comedy - I see it more as a sucker-punch manouvre than as a flaw, but it is true it's not the most direct way to get to the point of the night. And Barbara is almost too fascinatingly thrusting a character to fit into the thesis of "crushed by outside forces" - she fights ruthlessly against any attempt to keep her down, including, it turns out, her own flesh and blood. But perhaps that's the point - by fighting so hard in a game that's rigged against her, her failure rings even more painful.

Darren Yap's production keeps the action flowing thick and fast between multiple locations, using the tiny space at the stables cleverly as scene piles upon scene - as Den and Barbara's romance runs almost out of control, with neither of them truly understanding one another until the disasters have come and it's too late for them to survive together. Sound is a bit overamplified in the tiny space - effects almost overwhelm dialogue in a few key spaces, and perhaps this could have been wound down a little.

Still a good chance to see a solid play from Australia's theatrical past that certainly still speaks to now.

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