Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Mesh, Red Stitch, Oct 17, 2014 **

Written By Elise Hearst, by Red Stitch Actors Theatre (in collaboration with ARTHUR)
At Red Stitch, St. Kilda, Oct 17 to Nov 8, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 17, 2014
Stars: **
Full review also published in Herald Sun online on Tuesday, Oct 21 and possibly  in print. KH 
 L-R: Rosie Lockhart, Tom Dent, Olga Makeeva, Kevin Kiernan-Molloy, Nick Masters; pic Jodie Hutchinson  

There are so many things wrong with the script and production of The Mesh that it is difficult to know where to start.

This ill-conceived production, written by Elise Hearst and directed by Paige Rattray, tries to be metaphorical and allegorical but ends up being confused in style and annoyingly cryptic.

Hearst’s script deals with the experiences of four, post-war, European-Jewish immigrants who anxiously await approval of their Australian citizenship and pass the time by distracting themselves with costume parties, music and flirtation.

This idea has the unrealised potential to be poignant, funny, politically challenging and musically interesting, but the poorly written script has no clear style or intention while the six characters are two-dimensional and do little to illuminate the themes or even their own story.

Rattray’s direction is clunky and not cohesive, leaving the cast floundering in a mish-mash of styles that sees all the actors working in different modes ranging from broad comedy to restrained, underplayed naturalism and melodrama.

While the overblown, histrionic style of the first scenes may be intended to epitomise the characters’ role-playing during their costume parties, it ends up resembling bad panto acting.

Hearst bases the experiences of Lotte (Ella Caldwell) and Max (Nick Masters) Rosen on her own grandparents’ story of immigration to Australia from Austria.

However, it is a mystery why Hearst did not simply tell their story with sensitivity, humour and music instead of bogging it down in muddy language, muddled styles, shallow characterisation, repetitive dialogue and a dodgy attempt at allegory.

The production fails to elucidate theatrically the themes of refugees who face hardships, arrive in an alien and bureaucratic land then avoid thoughts of their painful past by indulging in silly costume parties.

Threads of the characters’ stories, such as Lotte’s pile of letters and Wolf’s (Kevin Kiernan-Molloy) barely suppressed rage, remain unexplained or unresolved.

There is some fun to be had with the Suits (Olga Makeeva, Tom Dent), two sleazy, government officials, and Makeeva’s comic eccentricities as Suit 2 are a welcome relief in this show.

The set design (Mattea Davies) that crams the actors into an ugly, plywood box, lacks imagination and does not serve the story. The intention may be to exaggerate the claustrophobic feelings of the characters, but Red Stitch is sufficiently tiny and enclosed without narrowing the space even further.

The live electric organ music, played by the actors, provides some atmosphere and Rosie Lockhart’s singing is pleasantly diverting, although she hits a couple of flat notes in Bei Mir Bist Di Schon.

The Mesh is a disappointing attempt to tell an important story.

By Kate Herbert

Directed by Paige Rattray
Cast: Ella Caldwell, Rosie Lockhart, Olga Makeeva, Tom Dent, Kevin Kiernan-Molloy & Nick Masters

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