Wednesday, 28 April 2004

The Frail Man by Anthony Crowley , Playbox, April 28, 2004

The Frail Man by Anthony Crowley 
Playbox Theatre

 Merlin Theatre, CUB Malthouse, April 28 to  15 May, 2004

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Frail Man, by Anthony Crowley, is an ambitious play with many interesting ideas that are not fully realised in the script.

This premiere production succeeds in great part because of its fine acting ensemble, director (Aubrey Mellor) and creative team.

Crowley makes a commendable attempt to explore notions of denial in the Australian psyche.

We consistently avoid confronting issues of refugees, aboriginality and disability and we will suffer for this cowardice, the play suggests.

Stephen Saken (Paul Bishop) CEO of a major corporation is struck down with a mysterious and aggressive illness.

Meanwhile, he plans a merger with an Asian company, loses then wins seven million dollars while gambling with his wealthiest shareholder. (Tim Robertson)

Saken immediately and incomprehensibly donates the lot to his mate at the local church.

He is then accused of witnessing the murder of a Muslim woman outside his house and taking no action.

Awkwardly woven through this contemporary tale are two 18th century convicts (Colin Moody, James Brennan) later revealed as the precursors to the modern Ugly Anglo-Australian.

Their names, Gristlefuck and Cockwit are grotesque and Dickensian. Other characters also go my names reflecting their characters: Frost, Steel, Frail.

Shaun Gurton's stark, clinical design is suitably claustrophobic and Paul Jackson's lighting atmospheric and inventive.

Bishop is superb as Saken. His presence is compelling and his character credible.

Robertson is delightfully malevolent as the rapacious Arnold Frost and Sue Jones revels in her performance as the heartless Chairperson, Jennifer Steel.

There were other strong performances from Margaret Harvey as the cop, James Saunders as her disabled husband and Nikki Coghill as Saken's supportive wife.

Brennan and Moody are both dangerous and comical as the two convicts.

The metaphors in the play seem over-simplified and the script often confusing, cluttered with three unsatisfactorily linked story lines.

The CEO's mysterious fatal illness is finally revealed as a metaphor for the malaise in our culture and our denial of the Muslim world, refugees and other social ills.
So many issues are jammed into this story that it is difficult to discern its intention.

The problem is generally that Crowley's dialogue is unconvincing and characters are not three-dimensional. The play is like a parable but it lacks clarity.

LOOK FOR: Tim Robertson's beautifully underplayed detective, Henry Frail.

By Kate Herbert

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