Saturday, 5 November 2005
The Woman Before by Roland Schimmelpfennig, Theatre@Risk, Nov 5, 2005
The Woman Before by Roland Schimmelpfennig
Where and When: fortyfivedownstairs, Nov 5 to 20, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
The Woman Before, a play by German playwright, Roland Schimmelpfennig, is jam-packed with stylistic and mythical references.
It incorporates elements of the Ancient Greek Medea, a woman scorned, the references to Pandora's Box filled with vice and pestilence and to the femme fatale of the Film Noir.
In spite of all these anachronistic references, the play has a contemporary style and focuses on modern relationships.
Frank (James Wardlaw) is a bumbling, middle-aged man married to the loyal Claudia (Carolyn Bock) for nineteen years. They have an adolescent son, Andi, (Paul Ashcroft) who has a girlfriend, Tina. (Katherine Anderson)
Frank and Claudia's entire life is packed into cardboard boxes ready for shipping to an unspecified destination overseas. When an unknown woman knocks at their door, Frank confronts his past. The scene is set for challenging their years together, their love and their plans for the future.
Romy, the unrecognised woman, (Heather Bolton) arrives unannounced and declares that Frank was her lover 24 years earlier, when both were teenagers. She professes her undying love, reveals her long search for Frank and, most disturbingly, demands he fulfil his promise to love her forever.
From the moment of Romy's arrival, the fabric of the family begins to disintegrate.
Schimmelpfennig employs a structure that manipulates chronology and a cool, even objective style that reduces the emotional intensity.
Snatches of dialogue are played in slow motion with an alienated style then they are seen again in full emotional flight moments later. Dramatic, even tragic scenes are interrupted to show their prelude hours earlier.
The impact is to heighten our objective response to the characters and remove what, in naturalism, would be the inevitable view of Romy as evil or malicious and our automatic sympathy with Frank or Claudia.
Chris Bendall directs with a clear sense of style and character. The almost claustrophobic stage is designed by Peter Corrigan with four doors to represent locations within the apartment. Live cello (Phil McLeod) and evocative lighting (Nick Merrilees) complete the tense atmosphere.
The cast is accomplished. Bolton, as Romy, is almost terrifyingly cool in her relentless obsession. She plays with no edge of mania, which makes the story more credible.
Wardlaw captures the overwhelming confusion and cowardice of Frank and Bock effectively shows Claudia's slide from security to desperation.
Schimmelpfennig has an inventive style and structure that make a simple mystery compelling.
By Kate Herbert