Recently, The Sydney Theatre Company featured a double bill comprising two well known one Act plays, Harold Pinter’s ‘A Kind Of Alaska’ and David Mamet’s ‘Reunion’. The plays have been directed by the husband and wife team, Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett, who will be taking over as joint Artistic Directors of the Sydney Theatre Company from 2008.
Andrew Upton directed the first play, Mamet’s ‘Reunion’. In ‘Reunion’ Justine Clarke plays Caroline Mindler a woman who goes off in search of her father, Bernie Cary, played by Robert Menzies, whom she hasn’t seen in 20 years. Bernie walked out on his family early in the marriage, leaving his daughter to grow up ‘fatherless’ from a young age.
‘Reunion’ was poignant, poetic drama. Mamet portrays a melancholic world, his two characters are lonely souls, and Caroline is disappointed in the man her father is. Bernie does reach out to her, and gives her a piece of special piece of jewellery. Father and daughter come to a rconciliation of sorts, in the end.
Robert Menzies delivered a memorable performance as Bernie, capturing the essence of a nervy, middle-aged battler kind of character. His angst has been made worse by having been a soldier in the Vietnam war, having come home a hero, and after the ‘high’ was over, finding it very difficult to relate normally. Justine Clarke was strong as Caroline, an emotional young woman wanting to reconcile some of her deep feelings.
Mamet’s dialogue was, as one would expect, incisive. Andrew Upton’s direction was meticulous and sensitive. The play comprised a collection of short scenes with quick fades to black. Chris Abrahams moody music score added to the play’s atmosphere.
After interval, Cate Blanchett directed Harold Pinter’s ‘A Kind Of Alaska’, a play the famous British playwright wrote after reading Oliver Sachs’ book ‘Awakenings’. In ‘A Kind Of Alaska’, Caroline Lee plays Deborah who wakes up after 29 years asleep suffering from encephalitis lethargica, still convinced that she’s sixteen. Dr Hornby (Robert Menzies) and her sister, Pauline (Justine Clarke) introduce her to an alien world however she’s still mentally stranded in ‘a kind of Alaska’, isolated from reality. Dr Hornby’s difficult journey is to bring her back from her Alaska.
This was reflective kind of theatre. My thoughts drifted every which way, wondering what it would be like to be in Deborah’s shoes, to suddenly go from being a playful teenager to middle age, and trying to comprehend the huge gap in her life.
Blanchett and the cast play ‘A Kind Of Alaska’ with a quiet intensity and strong focus. Caroline Lee’s gives a striking performance from the start as she wakes up from her comatose state. Lee’s Caroline is a frightened woman who desperately tries to grapple with her situation.
Robert Menzies’s Dr Hornby, in another fine performance, is a sombre, straightforward Doctor who is absolutely frank with Caroline, and is determined to get Caroline to face the reality of her situation.
There is an unforgetable scene in the play when Caroline is in the midst of trying to grapple with her present situation with Dr Hornby’s patience, and then her sister Pauline enters and the huge impact of her entrance is too overwhelming for her to deal with.
Ralph Myers set works well. The actors walk on stage through a long walkway, and then the set featured a large day bed, a chair for Dr Hornby, and a small water pool. The set also featured a large linen backdrop with wave-like reflections.
Chris Abraham music score supplied an eerie, other worldly feel.
Summing up, this was a well presented double bill by the Sydney Theatre Company. The main theme of the two plays came through clearly…how we humans cope with loss, whatever the scope of the loss may be, and how we try and reconcile with it.