Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Confessions of Jeremy Perfect - Theatre Review

What: The Confessions of Jeremy Perfect
When: 28 February - 11 March 2018
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written by: Sandy Fairthorne
Directed by: Judy Ellis
Performed by: Sean Paisley Collins, Simon Finch, Alex McTavish, Eva Justine Torkkola, and Ruby Wall
Set design by: Elisenda Russell
Lighting by: Richard Mclean
Sound by: Jack Stirling
Stage management by: Anne Powell

Eva Justine Torkkola
The Confessions of Jeremy Perfect is a new play by prolific playwright Sandy Fairthorne and is showing for the next two weeks at the La Mama Courthouse. It is a story about breeding and how we do it in 21st century Australia. It is also a play about people with all the complexities, beauty and ugliness which comes with our humanity.

Fairthorne's ouvre is Australian family drama. Her work delights in exploring family dynamics and her wonderful facility with realistic yet clever dialogue helps her to create characters of depth and detail which audiences can't help but delight in.

The Confessions of Jeremy Perfect is the tale of a young couple - Jeremy (Finch) and Rosa (Torkkola) Perfect - who have a newborn child and are in conflict over parenting styles. Jeremy want's to respond every time the baby cries but Rosa is of the 'cry it out' school of rearing and because she is a psychiatrist she would seem to have the academic and professional nous to know the right thing to do.  At the same time though, she is also diagnosing and medicating her husband Jeremy at home which gives the audience a beautifully unsettled space to watch the unfolding drama.

Part of me wonders if this play did not start out being something other than it became because there is so much potential in this opening scene, but most of it just becomes a mechanism rather than the basis of the investigation of the play which is a great opportunity missed I suspect.

An annoying Last Will and Testament has Rosa's sister Annie (McTavish) trapped into living in the same house. Apart from the usual sibling rivalry, Fairthorne has set up McTavish as a non-breeder to balance discussions which will ensue as the family circle grows.

And grow it does as Jeremy's brother Joe (Collins) and his girlfriend Simone (Steele) find themselves homeless and living in the attic. Their dog just died and being around baby Carl makes this young couple decide to get pregnant and the scene is set for a dynamic and compassionate exploration of survival of the species.

The idea is strong and the cast, for the most part, is up to the challenge. McTavish comes straight out of the box with great energy, interpretation and brings the first big laughs in the show. My only regret is I wondered if her character is even needed in the play.  McTavish is so good though, keep the character until the end of the season please!

Finch has an incredibly complex role with Jeremy who is constantly slipping between the influence of pharmaceutical drugs, sanity, and alcohol and manages most of it with great detail and humanity. His character in this complicated set of circumstances raises huge ethical questions for the audience and puts them in a light we rarely contemplate.  The main one being what is domestic abuse?

This leads me to Torkkola, playing his wife. There is so much potential in this role and so much of what happens and our understanding of what happened hinges on the knife edge she walks between reasonable and unreasonable. Unfortunately neither the direction (Ellis) or her acting skills allow her to find that precipice and keep us, the audience teetering and so the pay off at the end - whilst still incredibly powerful - is a really big leap for us. Rosa is just too - well - normal?

I loved Steele's dry and disbelieving delivery of lines and the interloper girlfriend, Simone. Her place as the Everyman at the start points beautifully back at the others before she slips gracefully into the madness of their world herself.

There is so much which is so good about The Confessions of Jeremy Perfect and the writing is delightful and witty but it is much, much too long. The play runs for 1 hr 40 and could easily be cut by 30 minutes. The problem is we know what is going to happen - or at least one aspect of it - and we spend so much time sitting there watching a prolonged set up when all we really want to do is get there and then see what happens next. It really is worth waiting to see what does happen though!

Russell's set was both beautiful and annoying beyond belief. Her eye for photography, colour, and composition are clear as tones of peach, blue, white, and rust intertwine through the costumes and the set dressings. There are 'zones' for the kitchen, the verandah, the bedroom, etc as all good interior designers will tell you there should be.

So what is it which drove me crazy? Down stage centre was dominated by a big, six seater laminex table. Thus the entire play takes place behind it (and way too much time sitting at it...). There is always this table between the actors and the audience so we can't connect fully with the performances. Why would you give the most powerful positions on stage to a piece of static furniture? Why is that not the first thing Ellis changed when rehearsals began?

McLean's fairy lights had a similar effect on me. As soon as I saw them texturing the back wall of the bedroom I spent the rest of the play wondering when they were going to turn on and how anyone could possible use them logically in this real world pregnancy drama. I shall simply say they did turn on... and off, and on, and off, and on... you get the point.

The truth is, these production details only annoyed me because there was so much which was good and enjoyable about the show. With some ruthless but compassionate dramaturgy The Confessions of Jeremy Perfect stands to be great modern play with a long life ahead. Oh, and best stage sex ever!

3 Stars

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