Friday, 23 May 2014

Review: Holiday/The Eisteddfod, Bussey Building

"Once upon a time..."

Australian theatre hasn’t necessarily been particularly well represented on these shores, certainly in recent years, and so the opportunity to see a double bill of UK premieres at Peckham’s Bussey Building makes for an interesting evening of theatre. Raimondo Cortese’s Holiday revels in its surreal world of dark comedy as Arno and Paul slip into the shoes or should it be thongs, of Vladimir and Estragon with this Antipodean take on Waiting for Godot.

Dressed in just budgie-smugglers and dipping in and out of a paddling pool, these two men while away an hour up any number of conversational avenues, throwing in snatches of obscure love songs and generally chewing the fat. Strangers when they met and strangers, probably, when they finally part, they talk about everything and they talk about nothing. It is tempting to try and read a greater purpose into Cortese’s writing but its real beauty lies in its sheer randomness. 

Dreams, horoscopes, drag queens, pet peeves, Mexican cinema, the list scattershots on and on and whilst there’s much intelligence contained within the observational humour, insights into modern masculinity and national stereotypes particularly shining through, the rapid and random pace of the constant shifts – especially the musical interludes – keep Holiday mercurially inscrutable. Which is often the best thing about a holiday romance…

Paul Woodson and Andrew Buckley are both great fun in capturing the essence of this moment but we soon see another side to Woodson as he reappears after the interval in Lally Katz’s The Eisteddfod, another two-hander but one which mines a completely different path. Here, the peculiar insularities of an intense brother and sister relationship are exposed through their play-acting and preparations for a performance of Macbeth.    

Both in young adulthood but trapped by agoraphobic fears which lock them in the disturbingly childlike fantasy world that they have conjured for themselves in which they too spin through a roll-call of characters, both real and imagined. Their mutual interdependence takes on sinister tones as they morph from siblings to friends to parents, even lovers but Katz has a keen sense of the comic edge which keeps things from getting too dark.

Woodson’s Abalone is a needy, sulky delight whose training to take on the role of Macbeth is constantly amusing but Louise Collins is superb as his sister Gerture who longs for male companionship beyond that of her brother and in the show’s best scene, she goes on a ‘date’ with the recorded voice of an imagined boyfriend. The two plays are thus well matched in their surreal senses of humour and suggest that theatres could usefully look down under more often in their programming.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 4th June

Originally written for The Public Reviews

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