Kings Cross Theatre, July 17
Behind the prosaic title lurks the odes and elegies of aging: ill-health, mortality, separation, loss and grief. American playwright Clare Barron’s You Got Older is essentially her autobiographical response to her father’s diagnosis with terminal cancer. If that doesn’t sound like much of a fun night out so far, you’d be surprised. Barron has no trouble crafting an entertainment out of this ordeal, but she does struggle to detach herself sufficiently from the intensely personal subject to ruthlessly craft the story.
Some writers mistake memoir for narrative, when in fact the latter must be chiselled from the stone cold facts of the former. So Barron’s play arrives with an impressively high level of craft built into the dances of dialogue, the wit of the sexual fantasies, the deep perceptions underpinning the characterisations and the puncture wounds lancing the emotional content. Such attributes would ordinarily add up to an exceptional play, and You Got Older is a certainly very good compared with most of the tosh to which one is subjected. Yet it could have been better still with more sophisticated artistry applied to the narrative sculpting: to giving more weight to some scenes and less to others.
Certainly Claudia Barrie’s production for Mad March Hare does Barron’s work no disservices. Her casting of Harriet Gordon-Anderson and Steve Rogers in the key roles of Mae and her father ensure the play never wants for warmth or spark. Rogers brings an affecting gentleness to the man who, running out of time, confesses, “I’m always itching to go do something else even when I’m in the middle of having a nice moment.”
Mae, meanwhile, has zany erotic fantasies about a cowboy (Gareth Rickards) that exemplify Barron’s unusual capacity to highlight simultaneously the lonely and the humorous sides of sex. Mae meets her match in wacko ill-health obsessions in Mac (Cody Ross), their shared fetishistic pursuits and subsequent failed sexual encounter containing some of the play’s blackest humour.
Her siblings are capably played by Alex Beauman, Ainslie McGlynn and Sarah Rae Anne Meacham, but Mae is the pivot, and Gordon-Anderson mines a deep vein of truth in her effortless shifts of expression and mood: from the elation of a memory, to the shadow of her father’s death, to being mortified with embarrassment. If only Barron’s play were as finely weighted as Gordon-Anderson’s performance.
Until August 4.