Deceptively simple fable runs deep
By Myron My
A Man, a Woman, a cabin and a lot of fish. This is the set up for Red Stitch’s latest production and the Australian premiere of Jez Butterworth’s The River. The story is quite straightforward, with The Man bringing The Woman to his cabin to go fishing, but the performances and technical aspects present allow for a deeper understanding of what it means to be loved and to be deceived.
It’s been over a year since I saw Dion Mills in another fantastic Red Stitch production, Wet House, and with The River, Mills again shows his powerful ability not only to get inside his characters’ heads but to be able to so with apparent ease. Apart from his skill in masterfully gutting a fish, Mills’ The Man is a fine balance of masculinity, fragility and mystery and his naturalistic portrayal of him makes this character seem all the more tragic.
Ngaire Dawn Fair as The Woman is the perfect counterpart to this Man, adding a level of energy and liveliness to their relationship. Her discovery of the deceit is quietly heartbreaking as it plays out with subtlety and nuance. The Other Woman however (played by Christina O’Neill), lacked the depth of these characters and, perhaps also by necessity, was missing the chemistry that Mills and Fair shared on stage.
John Kachoyan‘s elegant direction adds to the unease and melancholy of The River. While the entire story is set within the confines of the cabin, you can’t help but feel that the world outside is slowly drowning these people. There’s a sense of timelessness in the movements: nothing feels rushed or frenetic inside the cabin, and the only real moment of drama occurs while out by the river – although we only hear about this. The previously mentioned scene with The Man preparing the fish for dinner speaks volumes to the confidence that both Kachoyan and Mills have in keeping the audience transfixed over such simple stage action for such a period of time, and in ultimately making this one of the most memorable moments of the show.
My only gripe with an otherwise absorbing story is the lack of payoff I experienced, come the end of The River. Even with Christopher De Groot‘s compelling music and sound design and Clare Springett‘s adroit lighting adding highly emotional layers to Butterworth’s script, I left feeling dissatisfied, like something had been missed. I needed more to happen in this narrative: to feel something that would then linger deep inside me as I left the theatre, to be affected by what had happened to these people. The strong efforts of all involved in this production still make this production well worth seeing, but unfortunately for me, it’s in the play’s close that The River seems to get bogged down.
Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, 2 Chapel St, St. Kilda.
Season: Until 28 May | Wed- Sat 8:00pm, Sat 3:00pm, Sun 6:30pm
Tickets: $45 Full | $28-35 Conc
Bookings: Red Stitch Actors Theatre