Directed by Zoe Pepper
Featuring Adriane Daff, Brendan Ewing and Russell Leonard
Written by the cast and director
State Theatre Centre Studio
10 - 18 June, 2011
One of the most talked-about Blue Room productions of 2010, Side Pony Productions’ The Pride, has returned for a short season as part of the Perth Theatre Company’s inaugural State Theatre Centre Studio season.
The Pride is a hard work to categorise, because it doesn’t fit neatly into the literary forms it at first appears to inhabit.
Not exactly an allegory or a fable, although it shares many of their qualities, it is nevertheless a beautifully organised and highly successful examination of the brutality of rising and failing strength and the displacement of affection in a world not at all removed from the jungle, the laws of which are fully in force here.
In this it has many similarities with My Darling Patricia’s impressive Africa, the last show presented by PTC in the Studio. I was also reminded of Wes Alexander’s superb film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, and not just because of the eating habits shared by the play and film's characters.
In The Pride, Bruce (Brendan Ewing), his wife Linda (Adriane Daff) and their young neighbour James (Russell Leonard) play out a savage story closely drawn from director (and co-writer with the cast) Zoe Pepper’s fascination with the behaviour of lions. The couple’s prelapsarian existence (this despite Bruce’s predilection for casually killing his offspring) is threatened by overcrowding – too many cubs, Linda’s sisters coming to live – and Bruce’s growing inability to provide for their domestic needs. The arrival of James, young, still almost cub-like himself in his playfulness and eagerness to please, provides the malepower Linda needs and accelerates Bruce’s spiral into decrepitude. The rest is natural history.
Like Jodie Le Vesconte in her wonderful performance in Africa, Ewing is wounded, wild and leonine as Bruce, becoming progressively less dangerous – or at least dangerous only to weaker and weaker prey – as James supplants his primacy. He’s a challenging and compelling performer with a rare ability to hold an audience at exactly the distance he wants them.
Leonard gives a nuanced performance as the younger male, seeming to grow in stature and virility as his mentor becomes his rival and, finally, his victim. His dance to announce his arrival as the pride’s alpha male is a powerfully athletic tour de force.
Daff, who’s spirited Hermia was a highlight of the recent Midsummer Night’s Dream in the big room upstairs, conveys the cautious charm of a character who has her own priorities and knows how to fight for them with expert precision. We don’t find out how Linda ends up, but the strength of Daff’s performance is shown by our certainty that one way or another she’ll make things work.
Pepper’s vision for the story, and her management of its staging, is consistently imaginative and surprising. The production and design is kept deceptively simple, the shift in the character’s balance of power indicated by subtle changes in look and mood rather than fanfares.
The Pride is a fully realised creation, but I’m sure it still has plenty of upside. We’ll be hearing of it again.