Friday, 15 October 2010

Life Without Me ***

Life Without Me 
By Daniel Keene, Melbourne Theatre Company
MTC Sumner Theatre, October 15 to November 21, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars:  ***

Daniel Keene’s plays are produced more often in France than in Australia. Life Without Me is the first produced by Melbourne Theatre Company. 

Keene’s earlier plays, developed by the Keene-Taylor Project, ranged from poetic-abstract to the gritty realism of life in Australia’s underclass that featured short plays performed in the Brotherhood of St. Laurence warehouse.

Life Without Me is a different animal; Fawlty Towers collides with Sartre’s existentialist play, No Exit. It is a comedy with a smattering of simple, philosophy. It opens with a funny, slapstick routine between Nigel (Robert Menzies), the hotel clerk, and John (Greg Stone), the hapless guest. The verbal and physical comedy continues with the arrival of Roy  (Brian Lipson), a bemused, linen salesman, and Nigel’s dotty mum (Kerry Walker).

This is not to say that it is all absurd and comical. The characters are trapped, physically and psychologically, in this down-market hotel with its “private and adequate rooms”, a non-functioning elevator and not even a pen to fill in the register. When anyone tries to leave, they are driven back to the hotel by a raging wind, an incompetent taxi driver, a lost train station or other incomprehensible interference by the universe.

Menzies is a sad clown as the obstreperous, unhelpful and defeated hotel clerk. He makes a super, comedy double act with Stone who plays the desperate, directionless, lost soul, John, who is literally blown through the revolving door (get the metaphor?) arriving bedraggled, sodden and crazed. Lipson’s impeccable comic timing and eccentric delivery make Roy sympathetic and hilarious and his budding relationship with Alice (Deidre Rubenstein) is charming. The younger characters (Kristina Brew, Benedict Hardie) are not as successfully drawn in Keene’s script.

Rubenstein’s character refers in French to, “La salle des pas perdus” (the room of lost steps). It is like a lobby, a place to pass through, hoping to find directions to your destination. All these characters are lost, seeking, spinning in a whirl of ideas, random choices and confusion.

By Kate Herbert

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