By Joe Penhall
Directed by Denis Moore
With Verity Charlton,Vincent Miller & David Whiteley
Lighting by Dans Sheehan
Love and Understanding (November 27 – December 21, 2002)- Helen Thompson, The Age 03-Dec-02
Joe Penhall is a young British playwright attracting attention and awards.
His play Blue/Orange was seen earlier this year in a Melbourne Theatre Company production, and now Red Stitch has produced the Australian premiere of his Love and Understanding.
A three-hander, it fits neatly into Red Stitch’s program – an extraordinary 12 plays in 12 months – being contemporary, youthful and tough.
It is described as a black comedy, but there is little enough to laugh over. Penhall has taken an old scenario and worked it over in a way that captures the frightening fragility of relationships in a world stripped of old anchors such as marriage and children.
Neal (Vincent Miller) and Rachel (Verity Charlton) are hard-working young doctors, stressed-out and time-strapped, whose lives are disrupted by the unexpected arrival of Neal’s boyhood friend, Richie (David Whiteley). What seems at first just a contrast in lifestyle as much as character – Richie is a substance-abusing, irresponsible freeloader, Neal an over-anxious, over-achieving and desperately over-worked medico – turns into something much uglier.
Richie is really evil, and he sets out to wreck Neal and Rachel’s relationship and, indeed, their lives. The play alternates scenes between Richie and each of the others to reveal his lying duplicity and treachery, skilfully hidden from them. He succeeds only too well, and the formal problem for the playwright then is where his characters go from there. In a sense, the play is saved by its subtext.
Once such a plot might have been fairly simply a good/evil battle, but this contemporary version of events is not so clear-cut. Richie has a change of heart after nearly dying of an overdose. Both Rachel and Neal have learnt something valuable from the “other side” – Rachel is less naive, Neal achieves self-knowledge and liberation from his chronic anxiety.
The old-fashioned work ethic is seriously questioned, and the lovers’ relationship, if it is to be rebuilt, will be on a sounder and more equitable footing. The ending is a very tentative beginning, almost like an Adam and Eve starting out again after their encounter with the serpent.
Yet the writing sometimes strains credibility with a sense of a moral schema being stronger than that of psychological plausibility.
Nevertheless, Miller, Charlton and Whiteley, ably directed by Denis Moore, give the kind of intense, convincing and emotionally powerful performances that have become a trade-mark of Red Stitch’s work.
Verity Charlton, Vincent Miller and David Whiteley in Love and Understanding. Photo: Dans Sheehan.
Kim Edwards, Vibewire.net 20-Dec-02
Love and Understanding (November 27 – December 21, 2002) by Joe Penhall. Directed by Denis Moore.
If you are a theatre-goer living in Melbourne, and have not yet seen a Red Stitch production, you won’t believe what you’re missing. The quality of the acting this company offers astounded me once again, and I couldn’t believe the funny little St Kilda theatre on Inkerman Street wasn’t packed to the rafters, as it so richly deserved to be.
Neal and Rachel are both doctors who work too hard, but are trying equally hard to keep their long term relationship as intimate and poignant as it always has been. Enter the charismatic Richie, Neal’s renegade childhood friend, complete with drinking and drug problems, and a reckless and infectious passion for life and for getting what he wants. The developments that ensue are not difficult to predict, and I feel that the remarkably strong performances from the three actors and some astute and elegant direction by Denis Moore made this play more intelligent and beguiling than the script itself deserved.
The performance was done in the round – always a challenging choice – but the space was well used, and I appreciated the minimalist props and clever lighting.
However, I felt the actors doing their own stage management was at times a detraction from the atmosphere created by the previous scene, when a serious moment switched suddenly into a bustle of movement as the actors dropped character and busily arranged props in the half light. While I appreciate the need for slick scene changes and the convenience of the actors doing it themselves, allowing the performers to make an exit in character and leaving someone anonymous to do the cleaning up might have been more effective in several cases.
Vince Miller as Neal put in a very solid and empathetic performance, though I thought the transition of his character from anxiety-ridden professional to rash self-gratification was a little rushed. Verity Charlton’s depiction of Rachel was one which grew on me as the show went on – I found her more and more convincing in the role, and she played some particularly difficult scenes with wonderful naturalism and subtlety. Richie, as played by David Whiteley, was necessarily the most difficult character to portray – to be unsettling and frustrating and at times devious and dangerous, while maintaining appeal and charisma in his careless, vigorous and humorous outlook on life. David’s performance achieved this dichotomy superbly, and his management of the restaurant scene and the confrontation by the river is worthy of particular mention.
What impressed me most about all these three performers was their ability to match the cadences of natural conversation and make what was at times rather dodgy dialogue sound realistic and spontaneous and free of clich. The ‘bubble and squeak’ happy ending speech I found particularly trying, for example, though this was in no way due to the actors or direction.
Thus, although I wasn’t entirely taken with the plot or dialogue of the play itself, this was nonetheless once again a professional, sophisticated and very entertaining production from Red Stitch, and I can only hope the word will continue to spread about the standard of work this company offers. Last night they were offering next year’s subscriptions for $70 with double passes for eight shows, which is simply mind-boggling value for the quality of performance they provide. Check out www.redstitch.net for more details.
The Good: Wonderful acting from all three cast members
The Bad: A script which at times was undeserving of the performances it received and the unworthy audience numbers
The Vibe: Just can’t believe this company continue to be so good – why haven’t you been to see them yet?
David Whiteley and Verity Charlton in Love and Understanding. Photo: Dans Sheehan.