Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
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.
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
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 meatand reading
every book about pregnancy, but the character lacks emotional range.
Dyktynski is entertaining as
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.
Ella Caldwell & Richard Davies Photo Jodie Hutchinson