Monday, September 15, 2008

Review: Red Sky Morning

Red Sky Morning
by Tom Holloway, directed by Sam Strong.
With David Whiteley, Sarah Sutherland and Erin Dewar.
Red Stitch Actor's Theatre until September 27.

Let me begin by making a couple of declarations. 1. I have and continue to collaborate with rising star of Australian theatre, AWGIE award winning young playwright Tom Holloway. 2. I have directed three shows at Red Stitch over the years.

Melbourne hasn't been graced with a production of Holloway's in recent years. Beyond the Neck was performed in Hobart last year and Don't Say the Words in what was by all accounts a brilliant production at the Griffin in Sydney a couple of months back. Holloway is going places. Not only do you need to see Red Sky Morning to see what the fuss is about but to be privy to a seminal moment in Australian theatre. Seriously.

The writing takes my breath away. Honestly it does. And it is a risk. Holloway has made a huge leap in Red Sky Morning and taken a risk. But, and this is important now, the form is perfectly suited to the material. Perfectly. There is a very good reason to take that risk. Or conversely the risk works on a level that resonates deeper than sheer style because of the content.
Some is not as tight as it could be, yes. Some things land a little too heavily, yes. But jeepers creepers, there is a whole lot that works the hell outta me.
The technical feat that Holloway and director Sam Strong have achieved sent shivers down my spine. Not only does this feel and sound new, it is directly of our time. it is pertinent now. This is a story that needs to be told. And we need to hear it. How often does one get a chance like this in the theatre in this country? To be there when...
It is heavy material, but is written, directed and performed with a grace, dignity and a lightness of touch. It is, I imagine, difficult material to deliver. It would be a temptation to emote rather heavily, to compensate for the lack of action, activity or communication. None of the actors fall into that trap. It, for the most part, rings true. There is an understatement and poetry that reminds me of Egoyan's 'The Sweet Hereafter'.
Just see it. Really, I mean it.
Now, a couple of things. The following criticisms by no means counter my central thesis here which is This Is Important Work, so I will continue, and you may not if you so choose.
I have an issue with the regional setting. On the one hand, I know that statistically speaking, male depression is worse in regional areas of Australia. On the other hand, it just grates me a little - to sit there in a theatre in a metropolis, surrounded by middle class, educated people, looking at these regional characters. It always feels just a little condescending. I think it distances us from the terrifying stasis and drama. It ceases to become a mirror. Also, I don't think the play needed it. I'm not certain whether it was something Holloway specified, or was something that was a directorial choice. It just didn't sit well with me.
The alienation generated by the design is great. But it isn't seen through. I would love to have had my view obscured by the venetian blinds for the entire play, it would have completely worked.
Some of the staging is a little heavy-handed. Material like this is really hard, because there's really nothing to direct, it just got a little clever at points and drew attention away from the story.
The climactic moment is undercut by the staging. Totally. It forces the actors to over play the scene which is not good. This whole play is about less is more, and that concept is seriously compromised by the staging of the climax.
But these quibbles are beside the point. We need to see this. We need for this to be seen and we need to talk about it.

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