Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Review: Bone and Hilda


Briefly, I managed to catch the final performance of Hilda at the TAP Gallery on September 20th. It's a dark, deeply cruel, and fascinating text, featuring a fantastic bravura performance from Susie Lindeman unfortunately not matched by the disappointingly one-dimensional performance of Jake Blundell as her rival for the attentions of the ever-unseen Hilda. The production, directed by Jonathan Wald, was pretty ordinary, but the text by Marie Ndiaye is well worth further attention. That, and Lindeman's performance, were the reasons to see this work.

The following week I trotted over the Seymour Centre for Ride On Theatre's Bone, a play by John Donnelly. A return for the BITE Season (though I must confess that I missed the original season), Bone is a deeply compelling play about existential despair, a search for personal redemption, and a sense of purpose to carry on. Doesn't sound happy, does it?

Fortunately the writing is powerful, gut-wrenching at moments, and beautifully delicate at others. Each character bears some painful relation to the past, a recent trauma that underpins and overwrites their experience of the present. Each returns to descriptions of loss and leaving, producing image-worlds in which armies real and imagined run rampant, slaughtering and burning children who become animals (because they never could have children), imagined cancers devouring body cells like "ethnic cleansing", an imagined sickness whose force becomes shameful and redeeming at the same time based on the genuine sympathy it provokes, a stark contrast to the superficial empathy that this character uses to sell products that are meaningless even to him. Each of the characters is looking for connection, but they neither know how to find it or indeed what exactly it is that they are looking for. Its ordinary stuff, the trauma of everyday life, but no less powerful for that. As I overheard an audience member on the way out of the theatre: "That's where I've been."

The strength of the writing is matched by a fine ensemble of actors, most notably a moving performance from Vanessa Downing, but also fine work from Peter Barry and Ryan Haywood. Its a tough call to direct such a work as this , consisting as it does of three intercut monologues that while being thematically related and skilfully orchestrated, never produce any relationship between the characters. The theme is isolation after all, but it this could quite easily produce a unengaging disconnect between actors onstage. Director Tanya Goldberg deftly avoids this trap, eliciting strong and nuanced performances from her actors. While I have some reservations about the occasional (mis)use of mimed actions, and remain perplexed by the design feature of sculpted chicken wire dominating the space but not integrated into the staging, I thoroughly recommend this work. It closes Saturday 13 October, so there's a few more chances yet.

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