Tuesday, 20 January 1998

Thieving Boy & Like Stars in My Hands, Jan 20.1998

Thieving Boy & Like Stars in My Hands by Tim Conigrave
Adapted by Tony Ayres.
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, until January 31, 1998
Reviewed by kate Herbert around 19 Jan 1998

To be at the opening during Midsumma Festival of Tim Conigrave's two plays was to see the works twice removed.

They are removed from their first production in '97 and from their writer, not only by adaptation from their early drafts but by his death in 94 before their completion and production.

David Bell's direction has created a funky ad-break theatre with rapid scenes and hacksaw dialogue. The buzz in the foyer was that Thieving Boy had improved with remounting and some recasting while Stars was less magnetic. This reviewer seems to be the only critic who was seeing them for the first time.

In Like Stars in My Hands, it is the intensity of the experience of a man facing mortality which, in spite of the poorly structured text, makes moving theatre. Simon, played with dignity, tenderness and empathy by Adam Broinowski, is in the final stages of AIDS but still clutches at life. His partner, Marcello (Stephen Pease) suffers the anguish of the caregiver who will remain behind to gather the pieces of his life alone.

The emotional and visual components of Stars, in addition to Broinowski's performance, make it theatrically satisfying. In conjuction with Leon Salom's design, lighting and slides by Matt Scott and Gerard O'Connor create the other-worldliness of Simon's near-death visions and nightmares. The challenge of attending to a philosophical discussion of death intensifies the experience tenfold.

Thieving Boy is a more complete, coherent script with clearly drawn characters. It also deals with death but this time of a father. Conigrave observes family dynamics under a microscope. Angry young man, Moxy, (Torquil Neilson) is out of gaol for a day to see his father and his ex-lover Tom (Stephen Pease).

Conigrave captures the complexity and confusion of relationships in his swift, witty dialogue and irrational arguments littered with blame, frustration, lost opportunities and unspoken love. Reportedly, his novel, Holding the Man, which was completed for publication by Nick Enright, is a must-read.

Neilson is compelling as the tattered Moxy. As his fraught mother Penelope Stewart beautifully depicts the unpredictability of a grief. Petra Yared is a delightfully gauche pubescent foil to the addled adults.

Despite their flaws as texts, these are plays for our time. They reach out of the wheelchair and grip our emotional selves. Isn't that why we are in the theatre? To be touched?

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