This Social Conscience Takes A Bite Out Of Itself

09/10/2009 at 4:20 pm Leave a comment

REVIEW: Before The Embrace

Subtlenuance Productions. October 2009

With one foot firmly planted it its cheek, this satire of aspirational ennui gives a double edged swipe at the Sydney suburban obsession with the three “Rs” (Renovation, Reproduction & Recognition). Sort of a ‘Moliere-does-the-masses‘ in a modern frame; the play waltzes in and out of everyday lives as people fall short of an almost desperate search for something – anything to enrich their Mid-Life-Monotony.

I say double edged as writer-director Paul Gilchrist’s tendency to poke fun at his characters walks the fine line between backfiring and slapping them in the face. One liners are plentiful and pithy as oranges at half-time and we get a curious balance between these characters being like real people and cartoonish versions of themselves. Or is he cartooning his audience? Or himself? There’s enough self-referential gags to make the Gladesville Bridge groan so the occasional slightly condescending tone can be forgiven as self-parody.

Not that the rest of us get off too lightly either. Singles, couples, fathers, mothers and masquerading media moguls all cop a pasting. Although it’s significant that the savagest of satires seems to sit with the moral conscience of the ensemble – the single-minded Clare who stutters and stumbles her way through, tut-tutting the others whilst oblivious to her own foibles. Thus any moral high-ground Gilchrist may attempt to claim is gleefully acquiesced – along with any pretensions to creative superiority (as demonstrated by the deliciously parodic Stuart).

In between these worlds are two couples confronting real choices – so while there is some light mockery of those of us approaching mid-life-crises, when the farcical tone drops guard – the realism is at once both touching and disarming. The deft performances create real empathy which is the strength of the work when you get past all the cleverness and snappy repartee.

Structurally the play is a simple two-act comedy incorporating a bit of video and non-realism (just enough) to slowly develop a metaphor; a world outside looking in on itself, wondering what to make of what it sees. Having worked with Gilchrist before (full disclosure here) I’m aware of his penchant for conceptual, character-driven parables and how what-you-see is not necessarily as simple as it might seem. Watching this is no exception. It’s light – but not so much that you’d float away without a care in the world.

Written & Directed by Paul Gilchrist featuring Will Carter, Lindsey Chapman, Alex Dalrymple, Daniela Giorgi, Shaun Martindale and Jo Richards.
Before The Embrace plays at the Newtown Theatre until October 24th.

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VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT] gmail.com

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