Friday, 12 October 2018

This-That - Theatre Review

What: This-That
When: 8 - 13 October 2018
Where: Upstairs, The Butterfly Club
Written and directed by: Kotryna Gesait
Performed by: Kristina Benton, Candice Lillian, and Ryan Stewart
Kristina Benton and Candice Lillian
This-That is the latest offering from writer/director Gesait and has been playing at The Butterfly Club this week. Perhaps slightly inaccurately billed as an anti-rom-com rom-com, the show is nevertheless a good two-hander and well worth seeing for the great acting and intriguing character studies.

Let's get the tedious part over with first so I can get onto the good stuff. It is not a comedy. This-That is a dramatic piece of theatre which has funny moments. The funniest of those are in the meta-structure when they step outside the drama to tell us what the next step of the show would be if it was a real romantic comedy.

The internal structure of the play is, however, quite a deep and sensitive interrogation of how two women cope with the realisation that the other woman in their man's life is a real person and not just some cartoon cut-out stereotype. Alice (Benton) is the wife of a university professor and June (Lillian) is a math prodigy uni student. Both are, of course, sleeping with the same man.

June never knew he was married and we never find out how or when Alice discovered the deception, but I have to assume it was a recent discovery because the play starts with her storming in and saying things nobody should ever say to anybody regardless of circumstances. Benton is a powerful actor with an expressive face so when she plays angry, everyone in the room ducks for cover.

June is a straight laced, goody two-shoes, straight A, mathematical prodigy. This becomes relevant because Gesait uses this meeting space of June and Alice between the end of their relationship with the man to the beginning of the relationship between themselves as an exemplifier for the topological application of empty set theory. June goes into great detail of how the empty set can be everything and nothing. I think it is a slight misreading of the theoretical principal but it is an intriguing hook to hang the story on. I would explain what I mean but do you really want to read me going on about X and null sets and vacuous truths? I didn't think so... June says enough for both of us.

Both women are great actors although it is intriguing to see they both have very different acting styles. Benton is a master of Stanislavsky's realism and is a representational actor, whereas Lillian has a fine tuned awareness of her physicality in the space and is more of a presentational actor. I don't think I have ever seen the two styles juxtaposed so clearly before.

I was also very impressed and intrigued by the use of the upstairs stage at The Butterfly Club. I have never seen the back stage area opened up and it creates all sort of exciting possibilities. Gesait has used this space well although I did not enjoy the work done down the aisle as much.

The room is not set up for traverse theatre and I personally hate having to twist around to watch stuff that does not need to happen away from the natural eyeline of the audience. I can forgive it in cabaret because of tradition, but it has no place in a work of this nature and adds nothing to the story or experience. Likewise, bringing Stewart into the action to demonstrate romantic tension was pure gimmick and disappointing in an otherwise quite sophisticated play.

I'll be honest. I did not appreciate the originating premise of the show. I don't understand why women blame other women when men cheat on them. It is the man at fault so the only reason for Alice to invade and attack June at the outset is to reinforce the patriarchal trope that women are to blame for every evil, not the poor hapless man who just has the natural inclination to spread his seed everywhere. As a feminist piece of writing This-That fails from the outset.

I also couldn't really see the logic in the relationship between Alice and June. This may be because the meta- structure break ins actually destroyed any sense of tension or emotional development. In particular the sleep montage did not work. I didn't get it at all. Where was the montage?

This-That is nowhere near as funny to me as other reviewers have found it but I did find the play to be an intriguing representation of how two women in an awkward situation can actually show themselves to be rational and intelligent, and even interesting - a far cry from the representation of women in the historical western canon of play writing - and for that I loved it.

3 Stars

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