Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The Real Thring, Sep 17, 2008 ***

The Real Thring
By Barry Dickins, by Hoy Polloy
When & Where: 3RRR, Brunswick, until Sept 26, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The audience at Barry Dickins’ play, The Real Thring, were all of an age to remember the voluble and voluminous Frank Thring in all his pompous glory. The play cunningly captures the essence of Thring without attempting to be a biographically accurate docu-drama.

Michael F. Cahill’s Thring is not an impersonation but an echo of the man. He wears Thring’s signature black clothing, a huge medallion and a cluster of glittering rings. Cahill’s voice recalls his fruity boom and the sultry gaze, the pouting lips and theatrical poses are all visible. According to this Thring, Mary Hardy did the only good impersonation of him – probably true.

Dickins writes The Real Thring in witty verse. The language blends poetic and colloquial Australian lingo and the dialogue is peppered with allusions to Aussie iconography, literature, myth and movies – as well as including infamous Thringisms.

The rhymes are often surprising and always witty. Dickins establishes a musical rhythm. The play has a wave motion as it ebbs and flows from raunchy comic moments and satire to Frank’s poignant memories and his final tragic moments.

Thring’s memories of his privileged childhood in Rylance, his family’s Toorak mansion, depict a peculiar child that became the eccentric, old actor.  Every memory has a theatrical reference. “I came in under budget,” he quips about his birth. He reminisces about his successful years in theatre and agonises over the lost glory of his Hollywood years. He was Pontius Pilate in Ben Hur. “Loved him, hated Hur,” he snaps.

Cahill’s is a sympathetic characterisation. He engages with the audience, portraying Thring’s final years living in an alcoholic haze in a small house in Fitzroy, wandering the streets, bars and saunas, pining for his lost fame. “In the end one dies of Melbourne,” he sighs.

Wayne Pearn directs Cahill with a deft hand. Pearn uses dramatic lighting and keeps the staging simple with just a swivel chair, a pile of books and a seemingly bottomless bottle of wine to accompany Thring on his journey. The play is a reminder of our own mortality and of the slippery slope that is The Yartz.

Kate Herbert

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