Monday, 8 February 2016

The Village Bike, Feb 7, 2016 **1/2

By Penelope Skinner, by Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre 
Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, until March 5, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 7
Stars: **1/2
Ella Caldwell & Matt Dyktynski Photo Jodie Hutchinson
The title of The Village Bike does refer to a bicycle for getting around an English village, but you’d be right in thinking it also refers to a woman who spreads her sexual favours around town.

Playwright, Penelope Skinner, may be called a ‘leading, young, feminist writer’ in the UK, but this play seems to celebrate much that is the antithesis of feminism.

Becky (Ella Caldwell) is a young, newly pregnant schoolteacher living in an English village with her annoyingly doting husband John (Richard Davies) who, to Becky’s increasing and hormone-fuelled frustration, now avoids sex with his wife in case it harms the baby – or Becky.

When John repels her advances, Becky first assuages her physical desires by watching pornography then starts to look longingly at Mike (Syd Brisbane), the daggy plumber, and Oliver (Matt Dyktynski), the bloke who arrives to sell her a bicycle.

As her sexual needs take over, she becomes reckless and dives headlong into – well – let’s call it ‘bike riding’.

The production, directed by Red Stitch ensemble member, Ngaire Dawn Fair, has a frenetic energy that overwhelms the dialogue, characters and even the messages about the battle between individualism and fidelity, conformity and freedom.

Parts of the second half of the show are less frantic as Becky indulges her desires, seduces a couple of the locals and seems happier at home with her husband – for a while.

Although Skinner gives them some funny dialogue and interactions riddled with expletives, her characters are two-dimensional and dislikable and, while she deals explicitly and graphically with issues of sexuality, her exploration of desire, love and freedom lacks depth and subtlety.

Caldwell immerses herself in the fraught world of Becky but she plays her with a relentless, disturbing and, ultimately, distracting edge of desperation that blocks any sympathy or understanding of her psychological chaos.

Fortunately, this frantic style subsides by the end of the play when we are able to sympathise with her, even though it is difficult not to judge her idiotic and damaging behaviour.

It is a mystery why Fair does not use English accents in a play that is obviously set in England and uses English idiom and references; the Aussie accents are out of place.

Davies’ John is a hipster hubby – or should we say ‘hippy fascist’ – obsessed with eliminating plastic bags, eating organic meat and reading every book about pregnancy, but the character lacks emotional range.

Dyktynski is entertaining as Oliver, the amoral, easy-going local who is happy to fulfil Becky’s sexual needs on the quiet but only while his wife is out of town.

Jenny, Becky’s older neighbour, is perhaps the most complex character and Natasha Herbert brings her to life as an anxious, slightly judgemental, lonely woman stuck at home while her husband is off saving the world.

Brisbane plays Mike the plumber with a quiet and sad neediness that makes him sympathetic while Olga Makeeva has a fine cameo as Alice, the cool businesswoman, Oliver’s wife.

The Village Bike is diverting despite its lack of subtlety and complexity but it is probably less shocking than Skinner intended it to be.

By Kate Herbert 
Ella Caldwell & Richard Davies Photo Jodie Hutchinson

 Ella Caldwell Photo Jodie Hutchinson

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