When: 24 November - 15 December 2018
Where: Club Voltaire
Written and directed by: Thomas Ian Doyle
Performed by: Lucinda Cowden, Joanne Davis, Aston Elliot, and David Macrae
Sound by: Benjamin Brooker
I have seen and reviewed a few plays written/and or directed by Doyle (Longevity, C'est La Vie, The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name, etc) so by now I am very familiar with his style and approach and in the past I have pretty much universally enjoyed his work. Unfortunately Pins And Needles does not live up to the rest of his catalogue.
The story centres around 2 50+ heterosexual couples and, coincidently, both wives have decided they are sexually attracted to women. Each woman convinces her husband to experiment with swinging and they meet up for a rendezvous which doesn't quite go to plan. In these uncertain beginnings lie the seeds of the breakdown of both relationships.
The problem with the play is one of authenticity and this doesn't surprise me because I can see no way a 20 something gay man can have any understanding of 50+ women in life long heterosexual relationships. As a results the characters are montages of cliches. They are two dimensional cartoons.
The men come across as hapless sheep who only exists as extensions of their wive's wills and the women are comic automatons who have no idea what they want and have reverted to juvenile nonsense to fill the confusion. I suspect Doyle was aiming for humour but it misses the mark far more often than it hits the spot.
Based around ideas of sexual confusion, and with a bed making more trips on and off stage than the cast, it is incredible to realise the characters have not even the slightest shred of sexuality and they really do spend most of the time behaving as if they have never seen another human being naked. Trust me, in this day and age if you are 50+ you definitely know your way around other bodies. Women were let out of corsets a long time ago.
Unfortunately one of the problems with the Australian preponderance for one act plays is the audience never really get a chance to develop an in depth portrait of who characters are and why they do or say what they do, but even within that envelop the lack of information we have about the women in Pins And Needles is an abyss. Why have Fay (Davis) and Carolyn (Cowden) suddenly decided they are attracted to women? How did they discover this? What is their life like? Do the couples have children and how does/did this affect their realisations and subsequent actions and decisions?
The acting and direction doesn't really help a lot. I didn't get a sense the actors were actually listening to each other and saying their lines in response. There were too many misses of nuance and emphasis for this to be true. They all know their lines and where to stand, and what they are doing but I think the lack of character information in the script has left them floundering and because Doyle has directed the show as well as written it they probably haven't had enough directorial assistance to fill in the blanks.
There is also something weird about the last scene. It is the group sex bedroom scene. I don't understand why it is the last thing in the play. I can't even figure out where in the time line it is supposed to go. It is evidently not the night of the first meeting because Gregg's (Macrae) costume is different, but there is no indication the couples ever met again after the first dinner party. Very confusing indeed!
On the plus side, Doyle has created his trademark clever staging although I got tired of the bed going on and off stage. Either pare down how the bed is constructed or re-order the scenes so it isn't such a preponderance.
The real star of the evening is Brooker's sound design. It really is a work of art and perfectly sets tone, mood and location.
I think Pins And Needles can be described as a pleasant night out. It looks smooth and elegant, the performances are fine and the set up is cute but Doyle can do much better and does do much better when he writes what he knows.