“You Missed The Point of the Story”

22/09/2009 at 8:34 pm 1 comment

REVIEW: GETHSEMANE

Belvoir St Theatre, September 2009

David Hare is unflinching in this play; he stares down the moral vacuum of politics, media, art & education, incising his wit into the soft targets of decay and corruption in 21st Century Britain. With a superb ensemble cast and Australia’s most accomplished director at the helm, one anticipates a feast of the mind – although the result is more like a meal at one of those very expensive restaurants, it’s good, but not quite as much on the plate as you’d like.

It speaks highly of the quickness of the writing that a number of direct quotes from the play could have headlined this response, another that springs to mind is “There you have it. There’s your lesson.” – reflective of the didacticism that weighs down the narrative in the first half, as we wait for something, anything to happen the characters prod and feint at each other through the modern sophistry that Hare detests so much.

All this is housed in fashionable quasi-realism in a space drained of any colour or emotion, so sterile that the mind must work overtime. What’s this about? Where is this going? The kinds of question we are used to asking in theatre but with virtually no action in the first half a single compass point is marked – the character Lori puts it straight to the audience at the very top of the play that some people work from “the book”. The characters pit their books against each other in futile attempts to prove their lesson. She asks where that leaves “the rest of us” – but even she is not exempt despite her smug, ever-too-cool-for-school demeanour she runs by her own bohemian book as much as anyone else.

More than a metaphor depicting modern polity this also serves as a device to break the action. The scenes of people maneuvering their agendas is counterpointed by speeches direct to audience, often referring to ‘us’ or ‘we’. As such the characters include the audience into their motives – if only for a moment – and just as well because it’s hard to feel empathy for these people. Conventions of narrative are disregarded the protagonists (I use the term advisedly) are more inclined to demonstrate certitude than take action . When they eventually do – in Act Two – the stakes become about protecting interests, so even then there isn’t a lot that gets done – in the conventional narrative sense at least.

This frustrating lack of conventional dramaturgy, performed in almost monochromatic colour, leaves us only with an ideological debate by soulless characters, as Hare’s condemnation of the zero-sum practicality of a nihilistic culture. The Government follows what works – rather than any specific belief or affiliation. Modern art is celebrated for meaningless aestheticism. Deliberately, excessively stark we must assess the impact of this amoralism when one of the characters describes her decision to stop judging, the consequences of which drive the second act, although the tension this must create is almost inadvertant to the moral lessons Hare is mainlining to his audience.

The biblical motif of Gethsemane is marked twice (not counting the title) and as such it’s a chewy nugget of symbolism, complementing the sauce of certainty with a parable of doubt, if a little hard to swallow in the denouement. Hare is so committed to revealing the faults of a too-arrogant society he forgets that maybe, the small, educated niche of people who watch his plays are already aware that political donations come in return for lower taxes. I could be forgetting that not everyone has the benefit of education in socio-economics that I had, (so maybe they do need telling) but then again, even thinking that might just make me a condescending bastard. Or maybe I just missed the point?

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Entry filed under: Inside Theatre REVIEWS. Tags: , , , , .

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VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT] gmail.com

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