Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Review: Whore - B Sharp

By Rick Viede
Directed by Christopher Hurrell

Whore
is Rick Viede’s coming of age story about a young girl, Sara (Rhiannon Owen), who travels to London with a desire to become “interesting”. This desire leads her to work as a prostitute after meeting Tim (Paul-William Mawhinney), a fellow young Australian who has earned a significant amount of money in the trade. Tim teaches her the rules of the job and we watch as their friendship and lives develop concurrently, going from the initial exhilaration to disillusionment. This all takes place in 10 segments as we go through the 10 steps to a happy life that a self-help author offers Sara at the beginning of the play. The various characters that Tim and Sara encounter are played by the experienced Keith Agius and Ben Mortley.

The script won the 2008 Griffin Theatre award, and is solid enough. It reminded me of Ross Mueller’s Concussion - naturalistic scenes, interspersed with rock songs and hyper-real monologues, minus the problematic meta-theatrics. However, like Concussion, I found the production somewhat confused. The play moved between naturalism and stylisation often, but more often than not I felt the stylised moments, such as the bath with no water, were the demand of practicality rather than dramaturgy. This was most jarring during the penultimate scene, as I watched actors clumsily move between the stylised world of mime, and the naturalistic world of blood-smeared props.

I also thought the performances felt slightly too big for the space. Downstairs Belvoir puts you so close to the action that the every hint of feeling is laid bare. This works beautifully for plays such as Ladybird where we see a cast truly inhabiting a text. I felt that for much of this play however, the actors lacked the subtlety the space demands. Mawhinney, who I was greatly impressed with recently in Dennis Kelly’s DNA at the Old Fitz, has a talent for making large reactions feel natural, and if anything his voice was too soft at points, but I found the other actors lacked integrity in crucial moments.

Director Christopher Hurrell describes the play as a “crime thriller” but the problem was that I was never thrilled; I was never on the edge of my seat, because I found myself confused by the form. The numerous blackouts also hindered the building of tension despite the rockin’ soundtrack.

The soundtrack was in fact one of the most exciting parts of the project. A collection of local Sydney bands wrote the music for the play, under the curatorial eye of sound designer David Heinrich, a member of the band Lions At Your Door, but much more importantly, a founding member of Adelaide’s The Border Project whose Highway Rock ‘n’ Roll Disaster remains one of my favourite productions to date. This sort of collaboration between the theatre and music industries fascinates me as an artist who intends to be a part of both. The songs were quite good, and the soundtrack is currently being sold online at www.fbiradio.org.au, however, I can’t say that I found they played any great part in forming my experience of the play. They simply felt like a way to try and keep the energy going through the blackouts and had limited success in this role.

Belvoir’s downstairs theatre has the power to be so affecting, yet I have found that every performance I have seen there since the season opener Ladybird has failed to take advantage of the intimacy the space offers. I hope that the newly announced August to December season will rectify this.

- Simon

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