Thursday, 10 April 2003

This is a True Story, April 10, 2003

This is a True Story  
 by Tom Wright and Nicholas Harrington  
Courthouse Theatre, April 9 to 19, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 10, 2003

It is a very peculiar feeling to be drawn inside the heart and mind of a man whose understanding of himself and the world is dim and confused. This is a true story, as the title of this play declares. It is also one of my most extraordinary theatre experiences this year.

Tom Wright is mesmerising in this monologue told by a hapless man on Death Row in Mississippi. As Wright trails between pools of pallid light in the cavernous, empty space, he tells his desperate tale.

It is the story of Howard Neal,  a child-like, ignorant and uneducated man from the Deep South -  Deliverance territory. His history is tragic, littered with episodes of abuse, abandonment, homelessness, imprisonment and finally conviction for multiple murder.

Over Wright's face flicker myriad sensations: confusion, incomprehension, despair and pain. Intermingled amongst the horrors of which he speaks, is a mild warm smile. He smiles incongruously as he tells us his Daddy beat him.

In this theatricalised version of Neal's scribbled, nearly illiterate diaries, we believe he is innocent. Whether this is true in the real world we cannot know. Neal's last appeal was denied in January, 2003. Our intimacy with this child-man compels us to care about his fate.

The stage adaptation of the diaries is by Wright with director, Nicholas Harrington who is also a Melbourne barrister. The text is intelligently edited and the direction is simple, allowing the performer and the words to do the work.

Wright looks vulnerable in only a shaggy pair of underpants. He shuffles, as if chained at the ankles, from place to place on the stage and in Neal's life.

We lean forward in an effort to understand his broad and totally credible deep Southern accent and his peculiar syntax. Wright is compelling. Words cannot describe this experience. You need to be there.

By Kate Herbert

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