Friday, 20 April 2018

Sami in Paradise, Belvoir

Back to Belvoir and to a stripped-down production based on Nikolai Erdman's "The Suicide". Relocated from early-Stalin-era Russia to an unlocated refugee camp, this retains the story of people in desperate need who take the apparent suicide attempt of a friend as a chance to carry all kinds of messages into the outside world. It's played with verve and energy but ... possibly as a product of the way the script was devised (the various cast members collaborated and semi-improvised their roles into the final form), it does tend to lack cohesion - feeling more like a series of sketches than one central production. Yalin Ozucelik has a strong sense of humourous self-pitying misery as the titular Sami, and while the story centres around him, his wife (Victoria Haralabidou) and his mother-in-law (Paula Arundell), it continues on quite nicely. But as events expand, the sense of control starts to slip.

The relocation does appear, alas, largely skin-deep. While the cast is individually excellently talented and the music of Mahan Ghobadi and Hamend Sadeghi gives a nice energetic background, this ends up being light-hearted shenanigans rather than something that really penetrates. Satire needs to be worked like surgery, and instead it seems this is kinda a bit of random slice-and-dicing.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Dr Frankenstein, Canberra Rep

The obsessed doctor and the irate creature sprung from that obsession are a pair that have been adapted frequently across the last two centuries - there's something elementally fascinating about a scientist confronted by the bestial figure born by their own desires. Selma Dimitrijevic's version of Mary Shelly's classic novel draws the focus fairly strongly onto the scientist member of the pair, presenting her obsessions as they start as healthy curiosity and become something far more dangerous.

The only major change to the story as told originally is that the doctor is written female, and no longer has a fiance to be collateral damage in the battle between creator and creation. There's no overriding feminist agenda except for the perfectly fine one of "let's have good parts available for women" (the same agenda that got Sarah Bernhardt playing Hamlet over a century ago). And Jenna Roberts dominates the first half of the play very effecively - whether it be through arguing her responsibilities to her family against her desire to make a space for herself, or demonstrating her scientific experiments with blithe indifference to the fate of those experimented on (her treatment of a lab rabbit is quite startling), or her first experience coming face to face with the man she has reanimated.

There is a flaw that appears in both novel and play that, once the creature comes into existence, the scientist starts to go into retreat, reacting to the creature's provocations rather than beating their own path. And while Jenna Roberts presents very strongly the guilt she feels as unintended consequences start to pile up around her (yes, this is another Jordan Best Rep show with a body count - so far she's not had a show there with everybody as alive as they started), never the less we become more and more intrigued by the creature. And Michael Sparks paints him as a fascinating figure (with the assistance of some truly creepy post-mortem-makeup from Sian Phillips) - emerging first as a strange new-born babe ,both innocent and brutish, before growing increasingly embittered by his encounters with the world. His act two monologues are utterly compelling to watch - giving us a creature who stares us down with disgust at what he has to share a world with.

The remaining cast, inevitably, are largely supporting and there to feed the story of Victoria and her creature - but each have their moments, whether it be the gentle charm of Cole Hilder's Henry, the familial judgement of Georgina Horsburgh's Elizabeth, the terrifying fate of Emily Pogson's Justine or the cold and harsh judgement of Saban Lloyd Bennet's Father.

Matthew Webster's original music lends a funereal mood to the proceedings, setting Percy Shelly's poem "To Night" to suitably specteral tones, with a clever mix of live and pre-recorded singing. Chris Zuber's set design combines with Chris Ellyard's lighting to provide something suitably suggestive and with plenty of eerie spaces to allow fear and doubts to gather. Anna Senior's costumes tell the stories of their characters well - with Victoria's simple unadorned outfits contrasting well with the more ornate ones for Elizabeth and Henry's colourful cravats, supporting who the characters are.

This is not the full-throated gothic grand guignol some may expect - instead it's something more creepy and disconcerting, something that builds and creeps in its effect. If nothing else, it's worth seeing to catch two of Canberra's best actors, Roberts and Sparks, together in scenes of pure brutal power as creator and creation go face to face.