Directed by Mark Kilmurry
78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli
Season: 10 October – 22 November
Some say that those with addiction are addicts for life. In David Hare’s My Zinc Bed, Victor challenges this idea, transforming Elsa’s world and thrusting Paul’s into disarray. This is only exacerbated when an affair burgeons between Paul and Elsa, who is Victor’s wife. This clever three-hander directed by Mark Kilmurry examines the psychological undertones of addiction and the role alcohol can play in our lives, doing so with an acerbic wit. So often we as a society would like to regard addiction as only being present on the fringes of communities, as a self-contained issue. In fact, addiction is prevalent in all limbs of society and represents by no means a negligible portion of affected individuals. It is fascinating to observe the limits of self-control being tested, while we question the commonly accepted standards for treatment and rehabilitation of people with addiction.
Sean Taylor takes on the role of Victor with great flair. He showcases exquisite voice work, which only serves to heighten the intriguing charm of the character. Taylor’s character often undertakes lengthy dialogue abounding with political opinions and general musings, however he keeps up the pace and unleashes the humour so that it doesn’t drag down the scene. In each of Victor’s scenes there is constant power play at work, which teems with compelling dynamics. This is true in his engagements with Paul, a recovering alcoholic and a good poet, who first meets Victor when he interviews him for a newspaper at his home. Victor takes a liking to him and gives him a job, which unfurls into suspicion, as Paul gets a little too close to Elsa. There is perpetual uneasiness in this relationship, which makes for interesting observation indeed. Sam O’Sullivan plays Paul, on occasion addressing the audience directly in a narrative fashion. We see Paul relapse into his past behaviour, once thought to be cured by his commitment to the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. O’Sullivan takes a compassionate approach to this role so that the audience is rooting for Paul, desperate for things to work out. Danielle Carter performs as Elsa and has a similar effect on the audience despite her provocative ways and tainted past. It is wonderful when an audience has a vested interest in a character’s wellbeing, a testament to the actor’s ability to suspend their disbelief and become totally immersed in the emotive qualities of the character.
An achievement of the play is the painting of several layers in each character, no one is discarded as a “worthless drunk” to use Hare’s words from the play, but rather each person is immensely significant to another through their entangled relationships. The actors bring unique warmth to their roles, allowing the audience to perceive their strengths and weaknesses as a person. This can be difficult to achieve when the audience is dubious about the decisions the characters are making, however Kilmurry’s direction allows the audience to empathise with the characters’ positions.
The events of the play take place on Tobiyah Stone Feller’s minimalistic, yet striking set design. An entirely white stage allows the focus to be concentrated on the insular world depicted in the play. Use of few props augments this effect, with an assortment of alcoholic drinks posing as a central emblem of the play. The ambience is changed in a moment as the space becomes awash with light through Nicholas Higgins’ lighting design, and pace maintained between scenes through the employment of rapid percussion music.
It seems that we are given a choice in our lives, to master the use of substances, or to surrender control of your self. The means of navigating these two options may not be as clear-cut as it appears, nor the consequences that come forth in yielding to either option. Kilmurry’s direction illuminates Hare’s astute play through the incorporation of a deep sense of humanity. The three actors bring a nuanced quality to the work and shatter the oversimplified perception of what it means to be an ‘addict’. The desire to satisfy an addiction can ravage the relationships with the people we love, yet both are immensely strong forces in one’s life…the question may be, which will prevail?