Directed by Anthony Skuse
Darlinghurst Theatre Company
39 Burton Street, Darlinghurst
Season: 8 – 26 June
Continually humans are fascinated by the challenges, nuances and whimsy of human life. This innate intrigue that surrounds storytelling underlies the continual consumption of documentaries, as life is often proven to be stranger than fiction. Whilst Enright’s play A Man with Five Children is fictional, it assumes a documentary story-telling style, paired with the intricate back-story to the documentary presented on TV to the nation. This play is very ambitious. In spite of some drawbacks I found with Enright’s text, Skuse puts together a wonderful production that is visually stunning and explores the curious intricacies of the course of human lives.
Admittedly, I struggled for the duration of the show to give myself over to the play's world, because I could never wholly accept its premise. Enright has imagined a predicament where a single man organises for five children to be filmed one day a year, for a long-term documentary series. This forms the basis for his continual entanglement in their lives, as he is free from the checks and balances of a production team to ensure his ethics stay in order. It is unlikely that a big TV network is going to hand out money to a lone freelance journalist for an experiment with major ethical ramifications. Of course, the show described in the play does exist - the UK documentary series ‘7 Up’, documenting a group of kids every 7 years for their whole life. It is indisputably fascinating. The play tells the story of the kids' lives in a very similar way to this series, except instead of just grappling with the most recent portion of life, the play tries to cram in 35 years of five people's lives, as well as the behind the scenes narrative with Gerry, the filmmaker. So much of the story rested on the premise of Gerry’s relationship with the children, and I never quite felt their complex relationships and consequent circumstances to ring true.
You could see that Enright had a vast volume of ideas and musings he wished to express, however I felt that there was an oversaturation of interesting ideas that meant that they were never fully realised, to become more than a mere musing. The play is just a little too ambitious, which is a shame because a lot of the ideas touched upon are really quite wonderful. That being said, my issues with the play were all textual – Skuse’s production really is a lovely show.
Aaron Tsindos lights up the stage as Theo, with masterful comic timing and a sweetness to cherish. Jemwel Danao plays Roger with complexity, highlighting the shift between bright-eyed optimism, and the disillusionment that can accompany ageing. I was disappointed to feel that his role was underwritten in the second act – I would have loved to see a meatier story follow through for his character. Chenoa Deemal plays Jessie with grace and determination, and she manages to achieve good coherence in her character development in spite of the rapid movement of time. I enjoyed seeing Zoe blossom, played by Jody Kennedy, realising a future for herself beyond the self-imposed bland ordinariness she first believed she was capable of. There is a poignant scene at the end of the play, in which Gerry has a revelation about the way he has been living his life through this project, through his five children – I’ll refrain from spoilers, but Jeremy Waters nails this revelation at the end, showing a vastly different quality to the character.
Skuse's production enlists the use of projection onto the vast white exposed theatre walls. Both live film and previously recorded footage is used, allowing the audience to peer closer. There are truly breathtaking moments. Georgia Hopkins' minimalistic production design paired with Tim Hope's AV design is simply stunning. It's not a gimmick or a distractor, but rather the conceptual realisation of these kids' lives, as they are replayed and relived through a detached medium. If ever there were a suitable time to use the word ‘visceral’, this would be it.
There is a multitude of facets that determine (perhaps even predetermine?) the way in which our lives will play out. Human relationships are possibly even more complex and in the realm of the unexplainable. What draws a group of people together? Why do people fall in love? Why are these relationships so fragile, and prone to fracture? Certainly Enright gives audiences plenty to reflect on, in this play. Skuse injects feeling and a self-reflexive element that makes for a marvellous theatrical experience. In the vein of artistic expression, A Man with Five Children engages with colossal questions fettered throughout our little individual existences, but does so in a way that is visually arresting, and really very beautiful.