Love for Love at NIDA

On Monday night to the Parade Theatre to see NIDA’s production of Congreve’s Love for Love.

This was my first visit to the new Parade Theatre. It can’t be right, but I feel that the last time I went to the old Parade Theatre was in about 1972 or 1973 when the Old Tote Theatre Company had their last season there before (ill-fatedly) relocating to the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre. The theatre may be new but I swear they are still brewing the same terrible urn-stewed coffee. It could have been stewing for all that time, but time lends colour rather than flavour or aroma to the brew.

The theatre itself is rather splendid. It seems a shame to leave it to NIDA, though I recall that some attempts at commercial productions may have foundered on the out-of-the-way location, just as things always seem to have difficulty at the Seymour Centre. It must be unique in Sydney as a horseshoe theatre with two balconies – the auditorium is a more hospitable shape than the Sydney Theatre, though the stage is probably not nearly well equipped and its seating capacity is smaller.

Most of the front of house staff appeared to be made up of students, probably on a voluntary basis. The greater part of the audience were either students or people on comps. I spotted John Gaden, looking smaller in real life than he does on stage.

Despite boastful statements on the web page about productions selling out (counterproductive, in my view) and statements by the ticket seller that it was quite a full house, this was far from the case. Tickets were not sold for the balconies. The only excuse for the very crumby seat I was sold (near the end of row F) could be that there were heaps of uncollected comps.

It did feel rather like a school play: first, because of the extreme youth of the entire cast (including one particularly unconvincing old man) – especially at the start when it was all young men (though as a consolation, plenty of what D and I are inclined to refer to as “cuties”); and secondly, because of the loud and appreciative laughter from members of the audience who I can only assume to be the performers’ friends, amused to see them in costume and not as their natural selves and doing funny things. I found the laughter a little off-putting. I do hate being unable to share others’ enthusiasm.

Restoration comedy is rarely assayed in Australia: the director confessed in his program note that this was his first go at it, and I suspect the actors were even more in the dark.  It was difficult for the wits to appear other than hopelessly camp, or for the women to appear as anything other than total bitches of a late seventeenth century Ab-Fab variety.  The decision to put a lot of the characters in wigs that made them look like clones of Robin Nevin added another level of confusion. 

One mystery of the play is why Angelica, the main male character’s love-object, should appear so ambivalent towards him for much of the play – until, that is, her true plan is unveiled right at the end.  This poses some quandaries so far as the tone of her performance is concerned, and I didn’t feel that the actor or the director had quite settled the question. 

Just occasionally there were mysterious moments where the tone of the dialogue changed completely.  These were meant to be the love or sincerity moments, I think.  The secret of these is, I suspect, rather like changing dynamics or moods in Scarlatti: the switch must be instant and magical.  Sometimes it worked, but sometimes it felt like just a slackening of dramatic impetus. 

NIDA is an institution with a powerful self-myth, but the truth, readily revealed by looking at the serried production photographs around the walls, is that only some of its students go on to even a mildly glorious career in theatre or the theatrical arts. I’m not sure how fair it would be to predict any future winners in the lottery of theatrical fate based on this performance, since clearly it depends on casting decisions and the choice or roles which may or may not suit individual students’ strong suits. On this occasion, it was those playing the rustically-spoken characters (inexplicably tending towards Irish, perhaps because the easiest off-the-shelf accent) who made the strongest impression, and in particular those who played Sir Samson Legend and his younger, seafaring son, Ben, save for an excruciating excursion into song by the latter.

If I can find the program amongst the detritus in my car I will update with their names.

2 Responses to “Love for Love at NIDA”

  1. Club Troppo » Missing Link Daily Says:

    […] reviews a NIDA production of Congreve’s Love for Love. 33. KP: not a play I’d be walking over hot coals to see […]

  2. Nothing On « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] their friends, and a smattering of General Public. The main Parade Theatre, as I’ve commented before, is an inviting space with a more traditional theatre-ish feel than most venues in […]

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