Something Natural But Very Childish

Kieran Foster res
Kieran Foster. Photo: Katy Green Loughrey.

Old Fitzroy, May 2

The good news is that the Old Fitzroy Hotel’s theatre lives on. With Tamarama Rock Surfers moving out after a 16-year residency (and bobbing up once more at the Bondi Pavilion) the space could have been lost to other uses. Instead Sydney Independent Theatre Company now calls the venue home, and has improved the layout of the stage area.

Unfortunately, however, this was not an auspicious debut. Gary Abrahams’ play draws on the short stories of Katherine Mansfield, New Zealand’s pioneering fiction writer. Three love stories share the stage without intersecting other than thematically. We have new love and its flood of optimism, love unrequited and a fleeting extra-marital affair that drives the protagonist back to the stiff arms of her husband.

But where Abrahams has sought essences (and echoes of child-like behaviour) in these relationships we tend to be left with surfaces; where he has sought poeticism awkwardness is too often the upshot.

Awkwardness, alas, is also the abiding trait of the production. Even the fluid scene transitions effected by director Julie Baz do not mask the episodic nature of the narrative and, more particularly, the way these episodes pile up interminably, almost as if to avoid a conclusion.

Her cast of Leah Donovan, David Jeffrey, Kieran Foster, Margaux Harris, Tim Cole, Carla Nirella and Michael Faustmann are caught in an difficult no-man’s-land between naturalism and a more heightened style, without the skills to reconcile the two. Moments of charm – such as when Mr and Mrs Bullen (Jeffrey and Nirella) mime riding in a bumpy, horse-drawn carriage – are fleeting, and succumb under the weight of jarring lines, false acting and ungainly direction.

Sarah De Jong contributes an appealing piano score that harks back to the early twentieth-century setting, and Rachel Scane devised the simple set and the quite lavish period costumes.

We can but hope that this show proves an aberration, and wish the new venture well.

Until May 25.