Pinter on Death and Love _ page 1 review
Antartica Starts Here ______page 2 review



Locals Set Seal on Writers' Festival
Theatre review by Howard F Dossor.

Antarctica Starts Here
by Peter Leiss and Neil Caldwell
by Brettcardie Ingram.

Wax Theatre, Richmond, Aug 25 - Sep 11 1999


The presence of international luminaries at the Melbourne Writers' Festival should not blind us to the abundance of talent possessed of local writers and it is doubtful if any bigger contribution has been made to the Festival than that of the comparatively unknown Peter Leiss, Neil Caldwell and Brettcardie Ingram. These three, the first two in concert, all of whom are Melbournians, have authored an extraordinary double bill currently running at the Wax Theatre in Richmond. They have, as it were, set the seal on the city's literary celebrations.

Leiss and Caldwell have written a Pinteresque piece titled "Antarctica Starts Here", which consists of a dialogue between Zack and Alex, fraught in their relationship, unable to manage the depth of the love that holds them together. Ostensibly, it is a lesbian relationship Alex has with a friend that creates the friction, but Leiss and Caldwell are clever enough to realize that the real tension lies much deeper, in unresolved needs within the principals. Zack condescends to love, never quite realizing that love has more to do with giving than with receiving, yet incapable, for all that, of escaping the consequences of this truth. Alex anguishes that she seems to have to earn love yet vacillates between a willingness and an incapacity to achieve this. Her pain is palpable: her anger is almost too controlled.

In the tight writing of this script, dialogue becomes almost a form of declamation, not of its participants but of their failure to sustain a mutually supportive relationship. Not a word is wasted in a desperate attempt to say what is perhaps ultimately unsayable.

Monica Tessalaar as Alex and Justin Foster as Zack, utilize every square inch of a miniscule stage, creating territories with varying significance. Two chairs set side by side are the domain of their intimacies, their tender approaches to each other. The cocktail table is virtually never shared and serves as the citadel in which they seek their individual certitudes. The frame of a doorway provides Alex with a portal of promise but as she takes up her pose in it, Zack remains up-stage, reflecting on his "individual truth" and thus unavailable to her. The off-stage door, which Alex opens as the play reaches its climax, is never slammed and the audience clutches at the sliver of hope this offers.

Justin Foster's Zack is a suave, intellectual game-player whose emotions are never allowed to manifest themselves but his last two words reveal that they are an abundant, if controlled, force in his life.

Ingram's Brawl is a roller coaster of sex and violence, centered around the promiscuous alcoholic, Lila, played with extraordinary conviction and authority by Elise Wilkinson. The femme fatale, she orchestrates the plot and directs the passion, her sexual behavior leading to murder. But if Lila directs the action, Bud, played by Justin Foster, is its fuse and he burns with a threatening hiss from the play's opening to its close. Foster juggles confusion, anger, pain and despair in a heart-wrenching performance that contrasts finely with his presentation of Zack.

The supporting cast of Tony Rive, Robert Corner (who also directs) and Jeoff Keogh, provide disciplined performances, which carry forward the full force of the tragedy. Nor should the importance of the haunting impact of the carefully selected music go unnoticed.

Ingram has tuned a fine ear to the language of the neighborhood bar and the disquieted bedroom and in his text he reproduces it with a high degree of fidelity. Rough, even uncouth it may be but it is also full of piquancy as it manfully shoulders the responsibility of communicating the truth.

On the surface, both plays are about sex but, as Bud passionately seeks to enlighten Lila, "sex is not everything" and in these two plays it finally takes a secondary place. The real theme of this powerful double is the self-deception and lying that eats away at the essence of human interaction and leaves the individual in a terror of isolation.

Neither these two plays nor their writers were supported financially by the Writers' Festival but their audiences will judge this to be an oversight and will hope that in future years finance will be made available to enable the drafting and performance of comparable works. It is no special pleading to argue that for several years, Wax Theatre has demonstrated that it is the locus of considerable talent - its recent Pinter double was much more polished than the recent similar offering by the Melbourne Theatre Company at the Fairfax - that warrants the attention of the Premier's Ministry of the Arts and other funding bodies.


page 1 | page 2


© Peter Leiss 2007 All Rights Reserved
website designed by eric baines