Wednesday, 24 January 2007

The Object of Desire, Julia Britton, Jan 24, 2007

The Object of Desire by Julia Britton
La Mama,  Wed to  Sun, Jan 24 until Feb 11, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Bloomsbury Group challenged artistic, literary and sexual norms in the early 20th century England. 

Duncan Grant (Gerry Sont), the decorative artist, was purportedly adorable and charming - and homosexual. However, as was the case with many of the Bloomsbury set, he also had heterosexual relationships. He lived for most of his adult life at a country property called Charleston with Vanessa Bell (Fabienne Parr), Virginia Woolf’s (Robynne Kelly) sister, who was his lifelong companion, lover and mother of his child, Angelica.

Julia Britton’s play provides us with plenty of information about Grant’s sex life and describes many of his famous and infamous friends, sexual encounters and passions. This busy, expository style is the main flaw in the script. The characters speak in prose rather than dialogue, much of it being self-narration by Grant or pithy quotes from his associates.

Although the program states that Grant is locked in his room after Vanessa’s death remembering his past, this is unclear in the performance. Grant’s relationship with Vanessa is not the focus of the play, there are too many characters and Grant’s memories of his life are too broad and biographical. Biography rarely makes good theatre unless used selectively; a life does not have a natural dramatic arc.

Director, Robert Chuter, clutters the tiny space unnecessarily with furniture, paintings and the entire cast of eleven who remain on stage throughout. There are far too many characters so we can never attach to any individual. This is not to say that some of the people depicted are not interesting, simply that we see too little of each and too many who are extraneous to the story.

There are several good performances. Sont flutters about prettily as Grant, capturing his effete charm. Kelly is effective in a number of smaller roles, Phil Roberts plays the incorrigible Lytton Strachey with relish and Jonathan Dyer is suitably dignified as the intellectual John Maynard Keynes. Parr’s Vanessa is mild and loving but we crave more of her to understand Grant’s commitment to her and why he grieves her death.

The Object of Desire is an interesting, documentary view of Grant and his loving friends, but lacks theatricality.

By Kate Herbert

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