Monday, 10 February 1997

Tango, Feb 10, 1997

Written by Slawomir Mrozeck
 La Mama at Napier St. Theatre until Feb 23, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Feb 10, 1997

A Polish play from the naughty 60's on a 40 degree evening in a theatre with a single fan: well might one call it "absurdist". Slawomir Mrozek is a living Polish playwright who writes in the style of the absurdist school of Beckett and Ionesco and Tango is his best-known work.

 The Tango family comprises a father (Jim Daly) who is an experimental theatre artist, a mother (Elizabeth Thompson) who sleeps openly with the help (Charlie Powles) and a son (Humphrey Bower) who is studying medicine and craves "world order". Ain't it always the way? The sons of the hippies grow up to be accountants.  Whatever the norm, rebellion is rebellion.

This production is at its best when it is at its silliest. Slipping into banal action is ineffective with the absurd. Jim Daly, as mad old dad, provides a dynamic range and his usual unpredictable and quirky style of comedy. Charlie Powles as Eddie, the cheery thug, is both funny and threatening.

The play seems a little dated. It begins as a metaphysical-philosophical debate and finishes as a political comment. See it on a cool evening to enjoy it better.

The fact that it was written in 1964, prior to Mrozek's departure for Paris, is evident in the content. The artists, the unconventionality and sexual freedom are accompanied by some brutal but veiled social and political commentary. The pompous son wants ideas not physicality. In order to alter the values and behaviour of his embarrassingly modern family, he aligns first with the secretly conservative uncle, then with the brutish servant and finally is overthrown by said servant.

See this in the context of Eastern Europe where political comment was for so long verboten. A weak but obsessive fascist leader controls group with help of weasel. Fascist uses threat of martial thuggery to control society. Thug eliminates fascist and oppresses people through violence.

It is a simple parallel but effective. Much of Tom Stoppard's translation of the play retains the bizarre quality in the dialogue. There is some unevenness in the acting with some of the performances missing the comedy and unfortunately giving rather uncomfortable, mannered or stilted performances that were not merely due to the heat of the night.

Kate Herbert

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