Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Theatre: Picasso's Goldfinch

Written by Tom Jeffcote
Directed and designed by Lawrie Cullen-Tait
Performed by Andrew Hale and Tiffany Barton
The Blue Room
Until November 17

“They ought to put out the eyes of painters as they do goldfinches, in order that they can sing better.” The famous, if a little woolly-headed, quote from Picasso is the reference point for Tom Jeffcote’s story of a painter and the women who shape his life.

Wilson Stryker (Andrew Hale) is a notorious, reclusive Australian painter, a Brett Whiteley figure whose life and career has taken him to Manhattan lofts and Spanish villas and back home again. Therese, a young journalist (all the female parts are played by Tiffany Barton) barges into Stryker’s retreat, much to his discomfiture, seeking the exclusive interview she says will get her a job at a national daily newspaper.
Through their conversation we learn of the two women in his life. There’s the New York photographer who scoops him up at an exhibition and takes him to a world where he rubs shoulders with Warhol and Jagger.
When she dies in a fire a patron sets Stryker up in Spain, where he forms a relationship with his housekeeper. She dies too, of cancer, and Stryker returns to Australia, clearly wanting nothing of fame, and the publicity that fans it, or women. Then Therese arrives.
Sadly, Picasso’s Goldfinch left me largely unengaged. The problem is the script; I’m afraid Jeffcote’s writing for this piece has the faults of a lesser David Williamson. Everything happens too fast and too easily. The New York scenes, especially, don’t ring true; there’s lots of name-dropping, but precious little light gets shed. Conversations are mostly just chatter, and there’s some awfully stock imagery (Stryker, we are told, like Icarus, flew to close to the sun). When we learn that Stryker has somehow been awarded a major exhibition at the Metropolitan, of all places, the whole thing becomes not much more than a soap opera.
Lawrie Cullen-Tait, a fine young director and designer (coincidently, she’s best known for last year’s Red, the story of the real life New York artist Mark Rothko), Barton and Hale – despite a tendency to pull his delivery back to a too-passive mumble at times – all work hard, but this script does them few favours.

A version of this review appeared in The West Australian 2.11.12   

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