Friday 30 September 2022

MEASURE OF A MOMENT - Theatre Review

 WHAT: Measure of a Moment

WHEN: 28 September - 2 October 2022

WHERE: La Mama Courthouse

WRITTEN BY: Charles Mercovich

DIRECTED BY: Robert Johnson

COMPOSED BY: Louis Ajani

SET BY: Riley Tapp

COSTUMES BY: Amy Oakes and Emily Busch

PERFORMED BY: Jordan Chodziesner, Liliana Dalton, Claire Duncan, Asher Griffith-Jones, Carissa McPherson, Darren Mort, Abigail Pettigrew, and Luke Toniolo


Asher Griffith-Jones and Jordan Chodziesner - photo by Cameron Grant

People think making theatre is easy. People think writing plays is just another writing style. People think anyone can act. It takes plays like Measure of a Moment - now playing at La Mama Courthouse - to show us how fallacious those thoughts are.

Measure of a Moment is set in the 1890s in Melbourne and follows the misfortunes of a young lad named Connor (Jordan Chodziesner) as he deals with career disappointment and the temptations of vice. It is a cautionary tale about the dangers of gambling and the pitfalls of peer pressure. Across the course of a misspent youth it also tries to echo the social and technological advances of the turn of the century. In many ways this is the play's biggest problem - it tries to do too much.

Playwright Charles Mercovich is strongly influenced by Marcus Clarke's For The Term of His Natural Life and tries to echo the episodic structure of the book as well as more overt acknowledgements including the appearance of the ghost of Clarke (Darren Mort) at the end of the play. The trouble is, there is not enough information in the play. It is hard to keep track of who the characters are or who they are talking about. 

The program notes refer to dramaturgical support but there is no acknowledgement in the credits. Regardless, the project needs some proper dramaturgy and it is extremely disappointing that director Robert Johnson hasn't taken a stronger hand to help let the audience into this work. One of the roles of a director is to draw out the themes of a play and make sure all of the signifiers help point in the direction intended. After all, is a message a message if nobody knows what it is? Johnson's failures in this regard are rife throughout Measure of a Moment.

The visual impact of the Riley Tapp's set is powerful when you first walk in, and it is a design which keeps on giving as it morphs across the evening to put us in different places and times in Connor's life. Unfortunately it is solidly grounded in a settler aesthetic with warm woods and cloths rather than echoing the themes of automation and disconnection that come from vice and industrialisation which are constantly referred to in the play. 

Luckily, Tim Bosner's excellent lighting design helps lift us out of the ordinary and into the non-natural writing style created by Mercovich. This leads to my next criticism of the direction. The language in the play and the structure of it are not naturalistic so why are the actors playing naturalism? The exception is Liliana Dalton who plays a wonderfully evocative Bagman who would have done William Shakespeare proud. Suffice to say the costumes ground us even more firmly in the past rather than a looming future. They are nice but inform us of nothing.

The actors do a solid job of difficult material but there are a lot of times in Measure of a Moment when I think they really don't know what they are saying or what their role is in the story telling. Not their fault. The script is confusing and the director has obviously not supported them enough to find character arcs. 

The play misses important information and becomes needlessly bogged down in pointless acts of art. As an example I cite the final two songs. Asher Griffith-Jones is a phenomenal singer and a wonderful actor but apart from thinking there is some attempt at mimicking Bertolt Brecht I have no idea what those songs do for the story.

I am not going to lie. I wanted to walk out by around the last 15 minutes of the show. I had no sense of the story and I didn't care about the characters. There was little of visual interest to stimlate by that point and I could not tell by anything I was seeing or hearing whether the play was ever destined to end. This wasn't helped by the fact that nobody - not even the venue - knew there was an interval which led to an overall mistrust of just how long the play really was. I am going to lay this one at the feet of Jemma Law, the stage manager. I can't even work out in my head how the venue was not advised of that information

1.5 Stars.

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