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Ambition and emptiness

Fringe World review: New Ghost Theatre, Paper Doll ·
&
FUGUE, Indigo Keane and Nicole Harvey, Silence My Ladyhead ·
Blue Room, February 12 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

There was something about New Ghost Theatre’s Paper Doll that bugged me until I looked back over the 35-odd productions I’ve been to so far this festival season.  Then I realised it was just about the first play, rather than theatre (or other related stuffI’d seen.

Fourth wall firmly in place; two human beings talking to each other; a distinct linear narrative; start (young woman opens door to a bedraggled, soaking older man), middle (they talk it becomes clear he is her father, he’s been inside and her friends have warned her to keep clear of him) and end (their dark secret is revealed).

Katy Warner’s play, conceived as a response to Arthur Miller’s masterpiece A View From The Bridge, is erudite, powerful and raw, reminiscent in many ways of David Harrower’s mighty Blackbird.

It’s perfectly cast (Hayley Pearl is the woman, Martin Ashley Jones her father, both are totally convincing).

Lucy Clements, who has launched a serious career since graduating from WAAPA and delivering the impressive Fracture to the Blue Room in 2015, directs here, and, by and large, it’s a strong piece of work. But I take issue with two of her (or her and Warner’s) decisions.

The first was to perform an essentially naturalistic piece on a completely bare stage. What purpose there was in not providing even a table and a couple of chairs for the actors to work – and put their beers and chips on – defeats me. It created an unnecessary and unhelpful unreality in a piece that didn’t need it.

The other, far more important quibble, was their lack of control of the piece’s temperature. Even though Paper Doll is only 45/50 minutes long, it still needed the character’s heat to rise along with its tension and reveal.

Warner/Clements got them up too far, far too fast, which meant that that the play began to plateau when it should have still been peaking.

But they are the risks you take when you eschew easy allegory or dystopia, or all the other shortcuts that mortal contemporary theatre-making is prey to, and resolve to write an actual play. It’s hard, bloody hard, and I commend them all for doing it.

Nothing I could honestly say about Silence My Ladyhead (apart from noting its cool title) would be likely to encourage you to see it.

It’s a pity because its star Indigo Keane has quite a bit going for her (in a previous review I described her as “a pneumatic, diaphanous gobsmack” and, as this show uses the quote in their publicity, I assume I’m at liberty to repeat it), but this is not the vehicle for her talents.

The piece starts promisingly enough with her long-limbed, smoke-wreathed, darkest-legal-blue tinted emergence from the shadows (assumedly as Arachne, the mortal weaver who challenged Athena on the loom and got four more limbs for her hubris), but nothing after that lives up to that promise.

Her songs (I Was Made for Loving You, a bewildering Stand By Your Man, PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love) all suffered from really limp backing tracks that left her with nowhere to go, and made her attempts at a sort of Patti Smith-like anti-performance stance lacking the Patti Smith bit.

Sorry, but after shows like Bitch on Heat, Feminah and last year’s Power Ballad, Silence My Ladyhead was, um, devoid.

Paper Doll is playing at the Blue Room until  Feb 16.

Silence My Ladyhead is playing at the Blue Room until  Feb 13.

Pictured top: Major disappointment – Indigo Keane in Silence My Ladyhead.

    

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