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Nicholas Gledhill and Tristan McKinnon in Time to Remember.

Janine Penfold in Our Miss Fitson.

POSTED: 13 SEPTEMBER 2010

Closing Time — a double bill featuring Time to Remember, by Nikolas Ward, and Our Miss Fitson, by Kate O'Brien.

Greek Theatre, Marrickville, Sydney | Until 18 September

Closing Time is the world premiere of two new Australian one-act plays and comprises part of the extensive Sydney Fringe Festival taking place at the moment in the city’s Inner-West.

The first play, Time to Remember, is an absurdist piece, written by Sydney’s own Nikolas Ward.

Two men are locked in an undetermined space — dingy and long-abandoned, possibly underground — featuring two doors and one window.

They are strangers. One is young, confident and purposeful. We know this because he has a clipboard, tie and ponytail. The other is a derelict, sleeping rough.

Their conversation, in true absurdist fashion, is desultory and disjointed, centred on madness. We are in a place where nothing means anything, but everything becomes significant.

The text is layered with Shakespearian references, in particular Hamlet, and in a clever interchange the paperwork is scrunched to represent Horatio’s skull evoking the famous soliloquy on the meaning of existence.

The well-paced tension comes mainly from Smith’s lines as he tries to piece together where they are, why they are there and, more importantly, why they can’t leave.

The two actors, Nicholas Gledhill and Tristan McKinnon, are both first-rate, each one bringing to the stage fully explored characterisations which rapidly develop as their individual anxieties increase.

They work diligently to deliver the play’s spare dialogue, often used as an offensive weapon rather than a means of communication. Ironically, the delivery is, in parts, a little ill-timed.

Competently directed by Robyn McLean, these two engrossing performances work because they are entirely convincing as well as complementary.

In a sense, Watch and Smith are two halves of the same trapped professional, whose motives and existence are unknown and who parody the self-perpetuating roles that we all play.

In the second play, Our Miss Fitson, also by a Sydney playwright, Kate O’Brien, the theme of waiting is explored using a dramatic monologue.

Miss Fitson (Janine Penfold) is a retired schoolteacher, a little eccentric, egocentric but charming. Miss Fitson has taught school for 40 years — in itself a lesson to us all!

In the early part of the monologue she comically shares descriptions, anecdotes and character portraits from her chalkboard existence.

As the monologue progresses we encounter the woman behind the desk. A spinster with a romantic past peppered with pathos and tragedy. She is also an outspoken feminist and communist sympathiser which has left her with a disregard for property ownership. This is instrumental in her forthcoming eviction from the apartment that she has rented for the past 50 years.

The story is told using the premise of an ex-student interviewing her for radio. It is a somewhat crude device, but it allows narration of Miss Fitson’s  past and present, and of the grey world of war and old age and sunny shared classroom anecdotes which give a variety of moods.

Janine Penfold is ideally cast as the meticulous, driven academic. It is a skilful and quite mesmerising performance. We see both the razor-sharp academic and the soft, elderly woman who has lost her way in the fog of memory.

The densely worded monologue has an austere eloquence in which the big emotions register luminously. The feelings and experiences are detailed and descriptive via carefully chiseled sentences.

This storytelling achieves delicacy and force in the drift between meaninglessness and purpose ... a life carefully structured drifting into one of barren and disorientating loneliness and ultimate despair.

It sounds grim but it is a most rewarding theatrical experience. Try and catch it.