Tag: Scott Middleton

REVIEW: Mockingbird Theatre Presents EQUUS

Intensely moving

By Vikki Doig

A mere 40 years after it was written, Equus still packs a powerful punch. Originally penned in 1973, Peter Shaffer‘s play follows the case of Alan Strang, a 17 year-old boy who is taken into a mental health institution to be treated after his pathological religious fascination with horses causes him to commit an act of unspeakable violence. Shaffer was inspired to write the play after hearing a story about a boy blinding six horses, as a means of trying to make such an act comprehensible.

Equus - Scott Middleton

The format of the play is a kind of medical whodunit, with the audience acting as witnesses to the unfolding story and development of trust between the two main characters (which, my partner pointed out, was akin to breaking-in a horse). Equus is Mockingbird Theatre‘s current production, and upon entering director Chris Baldock’s eerie world, which is somewhere between a stable and a temple, I was immediately struck by the wonderful overall design, the image of the horseheads hanging on the wall like trophies and the strong, almost tribal, presence of the horse-chorus.

We meet Dr. Martin Dysart, portrayed by a wonderfully well-cast Jeremy Kewley, who expresses his frustration at his profession and questions his own purpose. After a bit of a shaky start to the show (I found myself willing him to slow down his dialogue) his commitment to the role was absolute. Scott Middleton portrayed a beautifully vulnerable and fragile Alan Strang – menacing at first, but more human as the play went on – and the growing relationship between these two characters was a real strength of the show.

Other characters joined and left the action seamlessly, creating a very immediate space in which the motivations of the young boy, his relationship with his parents (played exceptionally well and, at times, comically, by Soren Jensen and Amanda McKay) and his eventual violent contact with the horses could be played out and reflected upon. The horse chorus, all-seeing and all-knowing, mirrored Alan’s emotion in their every movement and maintained strength and focus from the minute the audience entered the space (it was a nice touch to bring them out last at the curtain call!). Particular mention should go to Maggie Chrétien, whose portrayal of the sassy Jill Mason was, although only having a small amount of stage time, one of the strongest performances of the night.

Chris Baldock has created a production faithful to Shaffer’s original script and clearly has great passion for the words and concepts explored in the text. However, having seen an extremely powerful contemporised interpretation of the play in the UK a few years back, I personally felt detached from this version which seemed to historicise the key themes of reason versus passion and rehabilitation versus medication rather than present them as significant and culturally relevant questions which still resonate with contemporary audiences. For this reason and for me, I felt that the production didn’t quite have the power and impact it could have and this was compounded by the questionable English accents from some of the cast.

Despite this, I certainly enjoyed the show and was left with a poignant comment from Dysart running through my head: “Passion can only be destroyed by doctors. It cannot be created”, for working with children in education and the arts always makes this play and its conflict between (seemingly) necessary medication and a natural capacity for passion and emotion profoundly affecting. Because once that passion is gone, can we ever really get it back?

VENUE: Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre, cnr Glenlyon & Sydney Rds, Brunswick

DATES: 3rd – 17th Aug

TIME: Tue 6th – Sat 10th 8pm, Wed 14th – Sat 17th 8pm

TICKETS: $30 Full/ $25 Con or Groups 10+/ $20 Tue 6th

BOOKINGS: www.trybooking.com/40833 or bookings@mockingbirdtheatre.com.au


A superb piece of theatre

By Bradley Storer

In Mockingbird Theatre’s debut production, the company has chosen an ambitious undertaking in staging The Laramie Project, the panoramic examination of the shockwaves caused by the murder of a young gay university student, Matthew Shepherd, in 1998. This portrait of a divided and terrified community’s reaction to a horrible crime seems eerily relevant now in the wake of the recent Jill Meagher murder.

In a sparse set containing only a collection of stage lights and eight chairs, the gifted men and women of the Mockingbird ensemble take on the roles of the various inhabitants of the Wyoming city of Laramie, as well as the members of the Tectonic Theatre Project who originally created the play, swapping characters at a moment’s notice as viewpoints and opinions weave in and out of the main narrative.

All of the text of the play is drawn from interviews conducted with the actual Laramie residents from the time of Shepherd’s murder, and the jaw-dropping ways in which the play unfolds in dramatic and unexpected twists truly makes the case for life being stranger than fiction.

In the first act, it felt as though two of the male ensemble (Scott Middleton and Christian Heath) were overloaded with different characters, and unfortunately were not always able to differentiate them enough to make them all worthwhile, while the other male members were left underutilized.

The women fared much better in terms of overall skill, with special mention to Maggie Chretien and Debra Low for creating great physical characterizations and generating palpable emotion in their performances.

Having said this, this is a fantastic production of a monumental play – the emotional atmosphere was electrifying and the simplicity of the set ensured that the audience was being undistractedly confronted by the reality of what was being said to us. The great power of Laramie comes from the kaleidoscopic collage of lives and personalities which emerge in every second of the play: the cast generating magnificent contrasts and contradictions.

The standout performance came from Tamara Donnellan, who imbued every character she presented with such life and vivacity that they all seemed entirely real even when they were initially unlikable – the most powerful sequence of the entire performance came when Donnellan, as the officer who was called to the scene of Matthew’s attack, describes with a heart-breaking mixture of sorrow, horror and confusion the state of Matthew’s blood-stained body in an almost Christ-like tableau. Joined by the other members of the ensemble in a symphony of sadness, it becomes all too clear that Matthew was not the only victim of the horrific crime, but all of Laramie as well.

A magnificently touching and powerful show, and a magnificent debut for the fledgling company which promises a tremendous future in store for them.

The Loft, Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Oct 26th – Nov 11th 2012, Tues – Sat 8pm, Sunday 6pm, Sat 27th Oct & 3rd November 1pm
Bookings: 0382907000 or http://www.chapeloffchapel.com.au
Price: $39 Full / $34 Conc & Groups 10+