Directed by David Berthold
Belvoir St Theatre
25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills
Season: 25 February – 2 April
Mark Colvin's Kidney is a new Australian play by Tommy Murphy, interweaving real life texts, emails and tweets to recreate a true story. The production, directed by David Berthold, details the wide-reaching ramifications of the Murdoch hacking scandal on the life of a high-end publicist in London. Through her journey, as her career prospects and close relationships are crushed, she delivers an interview with a journalist in Australia, Mark Colvin. It is his personal situation that realigns the core objective in her life.
A key theme that stood out to me in this show was the easy dismissal of a woman in a state that could be likened to hysteria. Sarah Peirse plays Mary-Ellen Field - a highly competent, successful woman in her field with abundant experience. When confidential information is leaked, accusations are levelled of alcoholism. Not only do the people around her incorrectly attempt to convince her of an alcohol addiction, they institutionalise her, stripping her of personal rights and volition. Discrediting Mary-Ellen was almost too easy - and yet the female struggle to establish credibility in a murky environment of double standards and overly loud male voices gives this idea in the production pertinent real-life relevance.
The meshing of the real and the theatrical in this play adds an extra layer of intrigue, noting the audience excitement when we recognise familiar faces on both the digital screens and depicted on the stage. I felt that the flow of the play was hindered by the verbatim nature of the text that shows Mary-Ellen communicating with various characters digitally, rather than face to face. This noticeably improves when she travels to Australia and meets Mark Colvin in real life - finally, we can see the human interaction! It translates far better to the stage. In saying this, Berthold's concept for incorporating all this digital communication is very engaging and Michael Hankin's design is visually stimulating, even if the overall structural flow is lessened.
The performing ensemble work well together, bouncing off each other in the more comedic sections and some of the actions playing myriad roles to cover the numerous characters that feature in the work. This includes flashbacks and extreme location shifts intermittently throughout the piece. Sarah Peirse and John Howard (who plays Mark Colvin) give strong performances as the key protagonists. I ultimately warmed to them both and came to empathise with their respective circumstances. There's a lot going on in this rather fantastical story, but it's the warm characterisations that hold your focus.
Tommy Murphy's new play is rather ambitious in the sense that the meaning of certain aspects of the play aren't immediately apparent, however this prompts you to probe and consider the work after you leave the theatre seats. The controversies of privacy and public access to information is ever relevant, as is the ethical minefield of organ donation and the human relationships tied to both processes. In the midst of technological chatter and vast ethical dilemmas, it’s the human connection that holds supreme significance.