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Photos: Jon Green

POSTED: 27 MARCH 2010

Love Me Tender, by Tom Holloway

ThinIce + Griffin Theatre Company + Company B | Belvoir Street Theatre, Surry Hills, Sydney | Until 11 April

Tom Holloway’s Love Me Tender is a very difficult play to write about, because in one sense it’s not really a play at all, yet in another sense it’s a very complete play.

I say that it’s not really a play at all because it’s more a series of vignettes about our frailties, our fears, about the thin lines between love and loathing and between being human and being animal. Same actors; many — almost always gripping, biting, provocative — scenarios.

And even those vignettes often seem to be explorations of language, with characters bouncing off each other, trying to find the right words for the playwright.

Yet I say that it’s a very complete play because it delivers a very complete message, bringing those vignettes together and enveloping us in them, sometimes like a warm, comfortable blanket, at other times more like a hair shirt.

And often delivering precisely the right words for us to express our own emotions.

Holloway, one of Australia’s brightest young playwrights, obviously likes to throw out a challenge, not just to the audience but equally to his directors.

Take his note at the beginning of the script for Love Met Tender: “This play is for any number of actors. Place: ? Time: ?”

Then there’s the script itself, reproduced in whole in the program — which is certainly worth buying to peruse afterwards, or better still beforehand. All the words are there, just no direction about who’s supposed to deliver them.

As in one of Holloway’s previous plays, Beyond the Neck — about the Port Arthur massacre — many of the lines are written in third person and could be delivered by any of several people. Would another director do something completely different with the same material?

The inspiration for Love Met Tender is Euripides’ Greek tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis, which involves the relationship between Agememnon and his daughter Iphigenia and her ultimate sacrifice for victory in the Trojan War.

In the case of this production — based very much in modern Australian suburbia with the main props being a patch of grass and a sprinkler, and with the war being against the Victorian bushfires — director Matthew Lutton uses a cast of five: Colin Moody (Father), Belinda McClory (Mother), Luke Hewitt (Cop/Chorus), Kris McQuade (Ensemble) and Arky Michael (Ensemble).

Things turn quickly from comfortable to challenging. From innocently cuddling your daughter to questioning your sexuality when you play with her on the bed. From rejoicing in young women’s new-found potential within society to despairing about their vulnerability. From shooting your wounded dog to watching your daughter burn alive in the flames.

This is provocative theatre from start to finish. All the performances are strongly convincing, though I’ll throw in a special plug for the sheer, bouncing exuberance of Arky Michael.

Not sure about the lamb, though. Good performance on the night, but possibly distracting from the overall strength of the performance.

As mentioned at the beginning, Tom Holloway’s Love Me Tender is a very difficult play to write about, because in one sense it’s not really a play at all, yet in another sense it’s a very complete play. Either way, it’s quite stunningly conceived and loaded to the brim with mesmerically beautiful, evocative language.

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