Thursday, 3 July 2003

The Visit by Durrenmatt, MTC July 3, 2003

The Visit  by Friedrich Durrenmatt  Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, July 3 to  August 2, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Simon Phillips'  production of Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Visit is a theatrical feast marking the return to the Melbourne stage of theatrical luminary, Zoe Caldwell.  after a nineteen year absence. It is vibrant, funny and dark, capturing impeccably Durrenmatt's grim cartoon style.

An ailing and aging woman, Claire Zachanassian,  (Caldwell) the wealthiest woman in the world, returns to Gullen,  her poverty-stricken village, to offer financial assistance in return for vengeance against her unfaithful former lover, Schill. (Alex Scott)

 The village initially abhor her request to kill Schill for her billion Deutschmarks but self-interest and greed rapidly overcome their moral dilemma. The play is a fine example of this 20th century Swiss playwright's "theatre of grotesque paradoxes."

Phillips directs it with theatrical vision, rhythm and pace. He invites us in to a bizarre and compelling world of absurd humour, quirky characters, dramatic tension, intrigue and moral dilemma.

The cast of eighteen is a well-oiled ensemble that draws together Australian actors of high calibre. In the foreground stands Caldwell in vivid colour. Her presence is statuesque and riveting, her timing precise and her voice fills the Playhouse.

Opposite her, playing Schill, Alex Scott returns to the MTC stage having been in the company's first production in 1953 with Caldwell. Scott seems almost not to be acting. His style is so subtle as the besieged old villager who must pay with his life for his youthful negligence.

The entire ensemble is exceptional playing eccentric characters but we cannot mention all eighteen here. Lewis Fiander  Kim Gyngell  Tony Llewellyn-Jones  Robert Menzies  and Alex Menglet play marvellously heightened characters.

Julie Forsyth  and John-Paul Hussey  provide a delightful clown pair and the children of Schill.  A high point is Jim Daly  and Bruce Kerr  as the blind eunuch musicians.

Gabriela Tylesova  designs the stage like a giant comic book. All is black and white - until Madame Zachanassian arrives in full technicolour. The stage landscape is lit evocatively by Nick Schlieper.

Ian McDonald's composition is a clever twist on Germanic music incorporating accordions and brass and beer house songs and dances.

The Visit is a fine example of Durrenmatt's play shaped by the hands of a contemporary director and a truly exciting ensemble.

By Kate Herbert

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