Wednesday, 2 July 1997

Meatsafe by Franz Docherty, July 2, 1997

Meatsafe by Franz Docherty
La Mama at Courthouse until July 19, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbrt around July 1, 1997

Franz Docherty's play Meatsafe blatantly draws parallels between the bloody activities of the slaughterhouse and the sometimes equally violent, albeit metaphorical, vivisections in our human relationships.

Meatsafe is an intense drama from the Realist school and this production of a new and expanded script boasts passionate performances. Daniel Lillford directs the show with great attention to emotional detail.

The play bubbles away in a pressure cooker country town the only local industry being the abattoir that has Union problems. Nola, a local, married Nick, an outsider, three years ago. They have one toddler and crave more but something is wrong.

As in most country towns, everybody knows more than their share of others' personal business. When history starts to catch up with the couple and the other blokes at the meatworks the temperature rises and the meat starts to stink.

Docherty's dialogue is swift and idiomatic while his characters are rich and clearly defined. During the scenes between the blokes we were flies on the meatworks' locker-room walls: an ugly image. The rawness of the men's language and their rowdy play and abuse was a peek into an unexpurgated male dominion.

The comedy arises effectively from the truth of the interactions and from characters' idiosyncrasies rather than being gag based. The action moves rapidly and the narrative holds attention with only a few hiccups here and there. The first act is stronger, interweaving the various plot lines and sustaining characters more effectively than the second.

The performances are uniformly strong. Bradley Hulme plays Nick as a wonderfully rough diamond, a well-meaning man who faces more crises in a week than one man can stand in a lifetime. It is an intensely sympathetic portrayal of a complex character.

As Nola, Margot Fenley has warmth and depth and Michael Burkett is a delightful depiction of Hughie, the young and the sexist. Damien Richardson, Terry Kenwrick, Helen Rollinson and Fiona Blackwood are all powerful presences onstage.

There were some problems that might be ironed out in the running of the new draft: some discrepancies in the chronology of the characters' relationships and too many unnecessary blackouts. Although the floor-lit wooden grille was a great centrepiece, the stage seemed cluttered by a rather clumsy set that interfered with the action. But this is a great piece of Theatre Verite'.


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