Thursday, 22 February 2018

Delilah - Theatre Review

What: Delilah
When: 20 - 25 February 2018
Where: The Butterfly Club
Written by: Clare Hennessy
Directed by: Romi Kupfer
Performed by: Laura McAloney, Francesca O'Donnell, and Sass Pinci
Design by Abbie Lea-Hough
Dramaturgy by: Glenn Saunders

Sass Pinci and Laura McAloney
Delilah is a new one act play being presented at The Butterfly Club this month. Presented by Left of Centre, it sits in an unusual space somewhere between a staged reading and a full production. I found this quite intriguing because it seems to allow for a work to be considered produced for funding and competition purposes without having to manage and resource what we would generally consider a produced work. I suspect we will see a lot more of this type of production in the near future so we will probably have to come up with a name for it.

On the plus side, a production of this scale really highlights the script and allows the cast the freedom to let go of the book which can be quite inhibiting in staged readings. On the down side, it really highlights the script and offers little to designers on the visual side of the practice. Having said that I really think Lea-Hough (designer) could have done so much more to create the characters and their world for very little extra effort or cost.

Delilah is the story of a young urban couple - Samson (O'Donnell) and Delilah (Pinci) - with Delilah's brother Dominic (McAloney) as the outsider looking in. Samson is an up and coming professional fighter with anger issues, and Delilah is his (supposedly?) abused girlfriend. Dominic is a mechanism to constantly put pressure on Delilah to get out of the relationship.

The whole story is book ended by the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah. In a nut-shell the bible story tells us Samson was given super strength by God. He fell in love and married Delilah who was offered a lot of money to find out the secret of his strength. Delilah bugs Samson until he finally tells her the strength is in his hair. He went to sleep, she cut his hair, and he was able to be captured and tortured.

The story of Delilah the play begins with this metaphor - our modern Delilah having cut off Samson's plaits before a big fight. It is a bit hard to tell in this production, but the story then goes back in time to the sequence of events which led to this moment, this betrayal.

Whilst this is a story with intriguing possibilities, my greatest hesitation about Delilah is the confusion about whose story is being told. According to the title it is Delilah's, and the media release insinuates it is an insight into domestic violence. That may very well have been the writer's (Hennessy) intention but this is not the play she wrote. This play is Samson's story - as is the biblical tale - and I am suprised the dramaturg (Saunders) did not pick up on the confusion.

You may say this doesn't matter as long as the story is a good one and well told. Perhaps. The next problem for me though, is that it is evident the story of Samson is not Hennessy's to tell. I often condemn men for trying to write women's stories and I am going to say this has the same lack of intensity and intention because women don't know men's stories. Everything becomes a stereotype.

In this production the entire problem is escalated because for some reason they decided to have women playing the male roles and all of the creatives (except Saunders) are women so who was there in the team to provide a male perspective? On the casting choice, I am all for gender fluidity but on stage gender is binary unless actively worked against. Theatre is the art of signs and signals so if you put a female in a male role you better be trying to say something or you end up saying nothing at all and this is what has happened to Delilah. Casting O'Donnell and McAloney in male roles and then not providing any information on how to read (or not read) this through costume or direction leaves the whole thing feeling very amateur and unfocussed.

This is not so much a reflection on performance. O'Donnell played her part well (and was de-gendered quite successfully I admit), and McAloney really hit her stride in the second half of the show.

Kupfer's direction is really a case study in creating tableaux with a few dated and rather twee theatrical movement tricks to try and give the work some depth and otherworldliness but it justs adds to the sense of 'drama school'. At 70 minutes the play is at least ten minutes too long and all of that can be attributed to the direction. It is slow and drawn out and despite a very affective sound track, tends to destroy the suspense rather than build it.

I know this is a harsh review, and I really thought there was promise and possibility in the play itself although Hennessy needs to go back and compare her intention to her product. There is no abuse in the script - just a hint of rough sex. The time lines are way out of wack. In one day Delilah finds out she's pregnant, chucks a sickie to tell Samson, plots to betray him with Dominic, and quits her job. I am all for telescoping time in a script - I use the technique myself - but in a play written as realism this is utterly fantastical.

There is a lot of potential talent in this team but they need to all start from the same place and not be afraid to talk to each other about inconsistencies. I would really love to see it performed with men playing the men because I think the creative team could use some male experiential perspective with the story as it exists right now.

2 Stars

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