Monday 29 July 2019

We Three - Theatre Review

What: We Three
When: 25 July - 1 August 2019
Where: Studio Theatre, Gasworks
Written by: Hayley Lawson-Smith
Directed and designed by: Eryn Kimberley
Performed by: Mohan Lakshmipathy, Andrea Mendez, Berk Ozturk, and Paul Wentford
Lighting by: Emma Fox and Tomas Gerasimidis
Sound design by: Mark Dosenko
Stage Managed by: Vivian Siu
Mohan Lakshmipathy, Paul Wentford and Andrea Mendez
Perhaps timed on the calendar a little oddly, a nativity play with a twist is being presented at Gasworks. We Three takes the story of the quest of the three magi from the New Testament and gives it a contemporary post-truth twist.

We Three is written by Lawson-Smith who, in the program notes, talks about having a dissonant connection to Christmas. Through We Three, Lawson-Smith takes the opportunity to recreate the story by removing the privilege of Christianity and bringing these magi down to the level of ordinary people in an extraordinary circumstance.

Traditionally the 'three kings' who welcome the baby Christ into the world with gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankinscence are said to represent the 3 ages of man - aged, mid-life, and youth. Lawson-Smith takes the youth symbolism and stretches it to the extreme making Balthazar (Mendez) a pregnant woman who, like the Mother Mary, is not too far from giving birth to a boy and who is also on a pilgrimage.

Tradition is a bit confused about whether Gaspar (Wentford) or Melchior (Lakshmipathy) is the old man who brings the gold. Lawson-Smith settles the debate by making Gaspar the old man, but leaving Melchior to bring the gold. Cultural diversity in the casting also brings a contemporary depth and resonance.

Lawson-Smith has also created new back stories for the characters. Gaspar is the lover of Herod (Ozturk), Melchior is a drunken prince who tried to kill his father with a butter knife, and Balthazar is the daughter of a high ranking official in Herod's court. There is also another character played by Ozturk - a goatherd who follows the party on their travels.

The play has a lot of moments which reference bible stories. At one point Balthazar washes the feet of Gaspar- but then refuses to do the same for Melchior. The goatherd is often referred to as a shepherd, but he tends goats so I assume that is a reference to Christ the Shepherd, and also the sheep and goats story. And this is where I started to get lost.

Kimberley has directed the show at a very slow pace, with lots of stage business and big pauses, Lawson-Smith, on the other hand, has pared back the dialogue in the script to a level which is just a bit too obscure so I (and my plus one) found it really hard to follow any kind of meta concept or narrative through line. These three people are sent on a quest to find the baby and they do - with a surprising twist at the end - but I struggled to come to any conclusion about what I was supposed to understand or realise or think about at the end.

I do lay the problem at the feet of the direction. One of the important jobs of a director is to provide markers and pointers in the staging to help steer the audience towards understanding. Kimberley has created a neat and clean aesthetic but to me it seemed the actors merely performed the text of the play, not the subtext (if only I could figure out what the subtext is).

In a play which is extremely obscure this becomes fatal for the audience because we need clues to know what point of view is being presented so that we can make our own assessments and judgements and take our own position on the topics raised.They say a play is not complete until it is staged. I don't prescribe to this sentiment, but I do think a play which is not interpreted in performance is not complete.

It is also hard to lay the blame on the cast. They are not inexperienced but there are obvious flaws such as the character of Melchior. His dialogue has been written with brilliance but a key point is that he is a drunkard and a hedonist. Lakshmipathy gives a lively performance but at no point could it be said he seemed drunk despite everyone else talking about it.

His character also gave Kimberley the opportunity to add a level of chaos or nihilism to the narrative to help reinforce and play against the overt and quiet spirituality of this Gaspar and to add a lively Maypole humour to the Donkey Wheel trek, but the opportunity has been missed and the show plods along like their feet in the dunes as they cross the desert.

Both the obscurity in the script and the lack of depth in the direction surprise me because this production team did work with a dramaturg (Vidya Rajan). All I can think is is must have been a very limited relationship because Rajan is not credited in the program, only thanked in the program notes.

Lawson-Smith is a very experienced and talented writer in the field of young adult theatre but can sometimes veer into trying to be too esoteric when creating more mature work. I think another draft of the play just taking a look at clarifying the objective would make it a wonderful modern December play to be staged.

1.5 Stars

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