The cast of Closer | District 01

I don’t care if Christopher Shinn is a Pulitzer-puller: The Coming World stinks. It pretends to tackle The Big Issues and fails miserably. Of course, my view isn’t likely to be a popular one. London’s Daily Telegraph, for example, described it as “a haunting, subtly constructed play”. Well, it might’ve been. It could’ve been. It should’ve been.

The best things about this production at Darlinghurst Theatre are the effusive, erudite directorial notes (which, on the evidence, amount to delusional wishful thinking) and Jack Audas-Preston’s moody lighting design. The notes had my appetite well-and truly whetted, but the production itself left me high and dry. I wanted to be engaged, but wasn’t. Any would-be pathos had a false, forced and soapy character.

Charlotte Lane’s curvaceous swathe of glistening tinsel, or whatever it was, made for an arresting evocation of the ocean, although it did prove rather distracting and not tall that attractive.

Caroline Craig made a cardinal error in deciding on American accents of no fixed address that I could discern. They fell somewhere between weirdly Canadian and vaguely Bostonian and were utterly redundant, as this play can easily be adapted to an Australian setting. Natasha McNamara is a very accomplished voice and dialect coach, so it’s hard to fathom what went awry here. Perhaps it’s down to sheer lack of rehearsal time, who knows?

Samantha Chester’s movement direction was probably the most dynamic aspect of performance: she has succeeded, with the actors’ complicity, in investing the characters with the requisite physicality.

Ian Meadows was, somewhat inexplicably, far better as the more grounded Ty, than as his tormented twin brother Ed, for whose suicide I became grateful. Cheree Cassidy’s Dora, too, was limited by a dodgy, unnecessary accent and the supposed hyper-reality of the text which, in this case at least, is an offensive euphemism for a lack of believability, thanks to clumsily constructed (sorry, UK Telegraph), almost cheesy characters.

Shinn’s play wouldn’t make for a lukewarm episode of Packed To The Rafters and it’s a shame two otherwise highly-capable actors should be compromised by such dubious work. This is a theatrical emperor’s new clothes and the fabric is wool, pulled tightly over the eyes of apparently gullible or cowardly critics.

It’s not that the play has nothing to offer or that it doesn’t have some fine moments, but there’s not nearly enough of them and the promised ’emotional intensity’ is missing in action. Of course, one’s reaction, when this polarised, opens the door to self-doubt, scrutiny and soul-searching, but my relative certainty was underscored just a few evenings later at the new subterranean venue on Oxford Street, in Darlinghurst, in District 01, where Apocalypse Theatre Company is presenting Patrick Marber’s Closer (you might recall Mike Nichol’s cinematic adaptation from a few years ago).

Marber’s play has all the real-world insight, textual and subtextual dexterity Shinn’s effort so comprehensively lacks, as well as sharply-drawn characters top whom anyone can relate, as evidenced by the unmistakably empathic expressions on the faces of the audience. With no set or lighting to speak of, the interruption of pillars to an imperfect space and bum-numbingly hard plastic chairs, Dino Dimitriadis’ direction surmounts and surpasses, thanks in no small measure to outstandingly compelling, ostensibly effortless and exceptionally well-matched performances from Cat Martin, Katrina Rautenberg, Michael Cullen and Tim Wardell. It would seem to be grist to the mill fore my contention that, given a strong text and dramatic expertise all-round, little or nothing else is needed and, indeed, less is more when it comes to lending impetus to the work on the page and ensuring it succeeds off it. Not even the odd stumble of dialogue or occasionally overwrought scene took away from the genuine emotional intensity present in Marber’s minor masterpiece.

Comparisons might be odious but are, on this occasion, unavoidable. While Dimitriadis has found the heart and soul of Marber’s work, Craig has spent too much energy talking up the value of Shinn’s, based on a thoroughly undeserved preceding reputation. She seems to have convinced herself, which may’ve been a psychological necessity to get as far as opening night, but faces a much bigger challenge is persuading me as to the wisdom of her selection, which has become a casket in which to bury herself and her actors. Kick Shinn’s and keep Marber’s Closer open.

The details: The Coming World plays Darlinghurst Theatre until July 3 — tickets on the venue website. Closer plays District 01 until June 25 — tickets through Moshtix.

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