Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Theatre: Armour (★½)

Written and directed by Tom Jeffcote
Designed by Sally Phipps
Lighting by Chris Donnelly
Sound design by William Langdale
Performed by Danen Engelenberg, Matthew Kiely, Joel Sammels and Ben Weirheim
Blue Room Theatre
Until May 7

What are we to make of a show so extravagantly paved with good intentions?
In Tom Jeffcote’s Armour, a counsellor and three guys from his men’s encounter group meet – for some odd reason – in an out-of-the-way scout hall to do some good old-fashioned sharing and caring. 

They’ve each got their own reason to be there apart from the chance to spill their guts: Neil the counsellor (Matthew Kiely) is trying to ride a wave of cutbacks at the hospital he works at; a brilliant student off the rails Mawkie (Danen Engelenberg) needs to get his weekly government fix, ex rock-star Robbie (Ben Weirheim) needs to get access to his daughter and ex-soldier Quentin (Joel Sammels) needs to get an AVO taken out by his wife lifted.
They’re all wary of Neil, and each other, and the whole exercise looks more likely to end in violence than catharsis, but somehow, little by little, the barriers between them break down.
And that’s even before the shooting starts.

Here’s the thing: the unlocking of the reticent male psyche, the exposure of male secrets, in trenches and space stations, boardrooms and bedrooms, is one of the major themes of drama.
However, playing it out in an environment where that’s what everyone is there to do – in therapy or men’s sheds and encounter groups – has virtually no dramatic potential. The playwright has yet to live who could make anything of a failure to draw the inner lives of his characters out in such environments, so the outcome becomes inevitable and lacks tension, surprise or climax. It doesn’t help that writer and director Tom Jeffcote, despite his earnestness, has little control of the narrative, which slips alarmingly at times and often lacks internal logic.
Armour is rescued somewhat by good performances from Engelenberg and Sammels, and it is never as excruciating as a similar piece in last year’s Fringe, also at the Blue Room,  that I won’t name but was impossible to sit through. But I’m afraid, for all its good intentions, Armour still falls well short of the mark.  

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