Thursday, 18 February 2010

Madagascar by J.T.Rogers

Madagascar by J.T.Rogers
Melbourne Theatre Company
Where and When: Fairfax Studio, Art Centre, March 18 to April 3, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

For the characters in J.T. Rogers’ play, Madagascar represents the exotic and unknown, a fanciful dream world, buts also the painful reality of famine and despair in Africa.

Rogers’ play is cunningly constructed by threading together the stories of three characters whose lives intersect in painfully intense ways. Time is elastic; memory bleeds into real time and characters who have been separated for years, share the same space, conjuring memories, snatches of conversation, arguments and past golden times.

Noni Hazlehurst gives an inspired and subtle performance as Lilian, a wealthy, acerbic and driven New Yorker who “stays in motion”, travelling the world to avoid her guilt and pain about her missing son, Paul.
Lilian raised her son and daughter, June (Asher Keddie) virtually alone, while her husband, Arthur, a charismatic and renowned economist, pursued his research in Madagascar.

Keddie is pale, luminous and emotionally fragile as June, who puts her life on hold to hunt for her brother.
Dancing around the edges of their lives is Nathan (Nicholas Bell), a less successful colleague of Arthur’s, who finds himself in a secret affair with Lilian. He is played with vibrating anxiety and self-doubt by Bell.

A powerful but unseen presence on stage with them is Paul, the missing son. His mother and sister adore him but we cannot help feeling that he is a narcissistic young man, obsessed with his father and determined to punish his mother, sister and Nathan for their human failings.

The play takes place in an apartment overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome. In this flat Lilian awaits her son’s arrival years earlier. It is the same place where June, for several years, tragically lives her life as a tour guide hoping for the return of Paul, and where Nathan reminisces about his time with Lilian.

Rogers’ dialogue is intelligent, articulate, witty and caustic. His observations about our dangerous and rapidly changing contemporary world are compelling and often funny. His characters come alive for us through their inner worlds, their memories and their hidden pain. It takes most of the first half for us to comprehend his complex interweaving of their stories.

Director, Sam Strong, moves his characters like ghosts, their paths weaving through the sparse, architectural design (Jo Briscoe). Paul Jackson’s lighting highlights the isolation of the characters and creates a flickering, otherworldly light through reflections from the water lying on the stone paved ground.

Madagascar is a mesmerising and superbly acted and directed production.

By Kate Herbert

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