Love-Lies-Bleeding at the STC

July 10, 2007 at 11:52 pm (Uncategorized)

Last Saturday was the opening night at the Sydney Theatre Company of Don DeLillo’s latest play, Love-Lies-Bleeding. As I mentioned yesterday, I bought our two tickets the day I found out the STC was staging it, and I tried to pick the best of whatever seats they had left. This strategy found us in the upper reaches of the stage left, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to be there on opening night. I bought a copy of the play itself online when it published last year, so I was familiar with the work in a way most of the audience probably wasn’t, and as you know I’m already at something of an advantage when it comes to DeLillo. Anyway, the main point is I was extremely excited about seeing DeLillo’s words come to life.

And didn’t they what. It is actually magical to see a play live that you have otherwise only read. In this case, it completely transformed the text, as indeed it is intended to do. The inflections, the pauses, the accents, the corporeal reality – plays are written with a view to all these and more elements of performance, so it’s no accident the effect of seeing it brought to life is so profound. I’d enjoyed reading the play, I’d even laughed aloud to an empty house a few times, but I loved seeing this.

DeLillo’s so particularly masterful at the vagaries of human speech that it’s a shame he’s only written two plays to date. His ear lends itself so very well to the eye. I hope he continues in this direction because it adds a dimension to his work that is very simpatico. And all the familiar themes were there, too, at least the ones that I spent so long analysing: adultery, space, journeys, secrets – Llew says there was a hotel in there too but oddly I don’t remember it. Then some of DeLillo’s better known themes: death, art, retreat, the desert, the New York subway. For a shortish play (there was no interval), he really managed to pack a fair punch.

And all credit to Robyn Nevin’s company. The set looked great, the lighting was perfect, the direction by Lee Lewis assured and that cast – wow. Nevin herself was just terrific, perfect in the role of Toinette. Early on I had severe doubts about the quality of Benjamin Winspear’s American accent in the role of Sean, but it didn’t take long for his nerves to settle, and in the end I understood his slightly in-your-face demeanour as a shrewd interpretation of the character’s personality. Max Cullen in the role of Alex was in his element and really very impressive – I felt he was exactly the man of the text and exactly the right amount more. Paula Arundell, too, although again with a couple of dropped vowels, was very moving in the role of Lia, particularly as she delivered her unconventional eulogy at the end. Special mention to Shaun Goss for an eerie, improbable inertness playing Alex ‘in extremis’ for the duration of the play. Llew and I discussed it later, and agreed it was impossible to tell until the curtain call that it had indeed been a living person sitting there all that time. Quite creepy, really, but for the fact that his situation was then made so utterly impossible to ignore.

It was superb, really. Two things REALLY upset me, and they’re not the fault of the players. The first is that they deserved a standing ovation and didn’t get one. I think Australians – is it just Sydney? – are such wet blankets in the enthusiastic applause department. Why can’t we give it up with feeling? The audience was pretty grey – it’s not often I get to say this anymore, but Llew and I were the youngest by a mile – but still, I think a rousing burst of applause is simply marvellous for kick-starting one’s circulation. It was all over too quickly, and the lights were up before I realised there would be no encore. I’d like to say they should have had one, and I certainly said ‘bravo’ out loud and hoped they’d be able to hear me offstage.

The other thing that irked the hell out of me was the fact that there were empty seats of two dotted throughout the theatre but most especially in the main section. Now, I couldn’t get seats in the main section, they were all ‘sold out,’ so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out they were unused corporate seats for the play’s sponsors and their clients. The primary sponsors are the law firm Ebsworth and Ebsworth and Myer. They might like to consider what a false economy sponsorship is if they’re not going to give a play its best chance of success. This was opening night, and there were screaming gaps in the audience because their corporate seats went fallow. It’s really appalling. I could have given those tickets away in a heartbeat to people who would have really appreciated them. Considering the age of the majority of the audience, it’s a particular shame that none of these wasted seats went to a younger part of Sydney who probably can’t afford the city’s exorbitant theatre prices. It made me furious sitting there looking across at those sets of two, and not least because so many empty seats had a much better vantage point than did we. But the main thing that makes me rage against these corporate-client seats going begging is that without question the players deserved a full house. Love-Lies-Bleeding is on at Wharf 1 until September 1, and you’re mad if you don’t take advantage of this great performance by a great cast of a great play by a great contemporary American writer.


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