Tuesday, 26 August 2003

The Ishmael Club, Aug 26, 2003

 The Ishmael Club
by Bill Garner  and Sue Gore  
Where and When: Trades Hall, Aug 26 to Sept 13, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Ishmael Club is a charming piece about bolshie  Australian artists around 1900.  It has a delightfully old-fashioned feel.

It focuses on the randy, Aussie artist from early twentieth century, Norman Lindsay,  (Robert Menzies) his sister Ruby Lind  (Asher Keddie) and his best friend Will Dyson  (Brett Climo). The play, written by Bill Garner and Sue Gore, gallops gleefully from around 1900 in Melbourne to just after the First World War  when Ruby dies of influenza.

Lindsay, one of Ruby's many brothers, was at the heart of a bohemian set that rivalled the Algonquin  set in New York and the Bloomsbury Group  in London around the same time.

With other radical and sexist artist egomaniacs, Lindsay established the ironic Ishmael Club. The members, only men of course, met at Fasoli's  Italian restaurant in Lonsdale Street,  Melbourne. They took on silly titles, engaged in impromptu music and song as well as bawdy plays written by the members.

This play has a rollicking good sense of humour and is cynical and irreverent about Lindsay and his rudeness, arrogance, dependence and his fruity sexual paintings of nude sirens. The three argue vigorously about art, politics and morality. But the play is really about the triangle of Ruby, Will and Norman.

It begins at the end of the tale. After Ruby's death, Will returns to Melbourne from his home in England. He meets Norman at Fasoli's which is now run by Mrs. Maggia (Faye Bendrups) daughter of the original owner. The resentment is palpable in the air between the pair and Ruby's absence is pajnful.

The play then leaps backward some years to their happy days of creating the Ishmael Club, to Norman and Will's mateship and Ruby's interruption of their friendship.

The egos of three artists, the complexities of their love for one another and the total inability to function as a trio is the core of the play.

The three actors make a fine ensemble. Keddie brings quiet dignity to Ruby. Menzies is a wonderful, vibrating, petulant, smug misogynist and Climo as Will, the meat in the sandwich, is mild-mannered, loving and talented.

Denis Moore  keeps the pace fast and the rhythms varied.

The Ishmael Club is a warm, funny and poignant piece of Australian history.

By Kate Herbert

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