I first went to a New Theatre production in 1973 when I saw Reedy River at the St Peter’s theatre (later, I think, the Filmmaker’s Co-operative) in Darlinghurst. Shortly after the theatre relocated to Newtown.
Reedy River was a play in the agit-prop tradition of the New Theatre. That tradition has since weakened: the next production scheduled in this year’s season is Coward’s Hay Fever. This would presumably come as a surprise to the theatre’s founders (see PS here), but in a way it has its own nouveau-Marxist logic: the artists have taken over the means of production in order to provide themselves with the opportunity to exercise their art. It’s a stark reminder (if one were needed) of the conditions under which actors and other theatre practitioners live: the opportunities are few and audiences for live performance hard to muster.
A cast of 14 faced an audience of about 45. I guess the size of the cast is one reason why this play, a success in London and New York, has failed up till now to find a commercial (or commercial-subsidised-professional) production. The New Theatre can only exist on terms which presumably preclude any payment or any other than the most modest payment for the artists. Full-price tickets are about $30 and concessions generous.
This leads to some compromises in the performance or on the spectator’s part in terms of expectations at the level of technique. Almost always at plays I have seen at the New Theatre there have been moments where I have been conscious, without necessarily being able to put my finger on every aspect, of some shortcomings in technique or technical execution. The sets are necessarily modest. Sometimes the energy or the timing flags. The odd line is fluffed, usually at the beginning, after which it is patched up, which inevitably breaks the spell. I suppose the line-fluffing is mostly a question of memory and tiredness (it’s not as if the actors can afford to abandon such day jobs as they have) though it may also be a matter of experience and how much it is currently being exercised.
You have to look past that and appreciate the work and the performance for what it is.
And that was certainly good enough. It deserves a bigger audience than on Friday and I hope it gets it.
Nicholas Eadie was the Falstaffian Rooster Byron, former daredevil who claims Romany blood and who for many years has held court at his caravan encampment in the woods (from which he is about to be evicted) over a motley crew of variously disaffected youth (and one long-term offsider who has never grown away) who come for the drugs and booze. This part was originally written for Mark Rylance, who seems to have played it looking rather like Chopper Read and apparently with some physical gusto. Eadie was less energetic and just occasionally his philosophising slipped into a (surely unintended) didactic old-queeniness (well, not really queeny: Ross Gittins has something of the same manner in his video posts for the SMH). I wish he could have been just a bit tougher. Eadie is on stage for practically the entire three acts. He took a while to warm up in the first act and I felt he tired by the third act – by then the play had rather boxed itself into a corner. The second act was the best.
Jeremy Waters, last seen by me over 20 years ago as Adrian Mole in a dramatisation of The Secret Diary of, was Rooster’s loyalest supporter – an unemployed plasterer with aspirations as a DJ. K thought that Jeremy was overacting in the first act, but by the second she was won over. I thought his was a bravura performance and I wasn’t conscious of any slips or lapses. On the strength of this we really should see him more in more professional productions.
I’m not going to go through all the rest of the cast, apart from Pete Nettell. I have seen him take so many grotesque parts where he has sometimes seemingly endeavoured to carry the show (and sometimes rather less-accomplished actors) with over-the-top [over-]acting that it was a pleasant surprise to see him in toned-down, but nonetheless effective, mode.