Thursday, June 19, 2014

Theatre: Realism

By Anthony Neilson
Director Anthony Skuse
Set designer Sarah Duyvestyn
Performed by WAAPA 3rd Year Acting students
Roundhouse Theatre, WAAPA
June 13 – 19, 2014

There was something touching about seeing the WAAPA’s 3rd Year Acting students’ production of Realism in the shadow of Rik Mayall’s death. Anthony Neilson, who wrote the play in 2006, is an elder statesman of British “in-yer-face” theatre, and if Realism doesn’t exactly owe a debt to The Young Ones, it’s at least popped next door to cadge some sugar from them occasionally.
Certainly, although almost everything in Realism happens inside Liam Maguire’s head (by and large the characters take their actors’ names), there are times when he is hanging out in there with his mates Adam (Adam Sollis) and Alfie (Alexander Frank) that they are for all the world like Vyvyan, Rick and Neil.
This is tough theatre on a couple of levels. As an exploration of the fantasy life of a young man on a day when he can’t be stuffed doing anything, it’s a wild skew on reality. As Neilson imagines it, and director Anthony Skuse and his cast bring it to the stage, Realism is a deeply offensive riot of sex, violence, bodily functions and just about every word that starts with “mis…” and ends with “…ism”. It’s also a timely examination of miserable ennui bordering on depression.
It can, however, be screechingly funny and it’s constantly inventive, with a cast that has the courage, energy and talent to deliver both in spades.
They are all terrific, and some characters – Frank’s fruitcake Alfie, Sollis’s affecting cerebral palsy-suffering call centre worker (and also Liam’s gloriously surly cat – Sollis is on fire in this show) and Alexis Lane’s irate, besotted mother – are truly memorable. Kirsty Marillier and Harriet Davies, as Liam’s former and current flames, are dream girls (Kirsty, at least, is real enough – it’s Liam’s ill-advised break-up with her that’s thrown him into his black funk) and Maguire gives a strong, nuanced performance in a role that, inevitably, has him centre stage for nearly all of the play’s 100-odd minutes.
The ensemble work, in particular a routine that rolls from political debate to jagged dance to bombs and sniper fire in a Syrian street and a Black and White Minstrel Show number whose only lyrics begin “What a bunch of…” but can’t be completed in respectable company, is outstanding.

This review appeared in The West Australian 19.6.14


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