Directed by Iain Sinclair
Darlinghurst Theatre Company
39 Burton Street, Darlinghurst
Season: 16 September – 16 October
Fairytales tend to allude to the crooked misshapen parts of life. JM Barrie’s Peter Pan is hence a fitting allusion in Harley’s new work Remembering Pirates, to explore the fragility of human memory and the stories we tell ourselves to keep darker truths at bay. One part ethereal and two parts dramatic realism, Iain Sinclair’s production blurs the boundaries between actuality and imagination to form a tantalising production.
Whilst Harley’s concept is engaging and quite unique, it feels like the idea still isn’t fully fleshed out. It is a brand new work, after all. A short play of one hour, there is an abundance of interesting relationships and historical depth to the characters, however the engagement with each idea seems somewhat too brief. The story ends abruptly with some circumstances mentioned but left relatively unexplained. One could argue that loose ends are left to keep the audience thinking, but I think Harley’s ideas could be better driven home with an extra prod. I loved the exploration of self-altered memories and the power of suggestion to actualise a lie. The suggestion of homosexual desire between John and Peter also intrigued me, and I felt was dealt with very well. Sometimes these ideas can feel tokenistic or contrived, but the idea felt totally believable and gave extra weight to John’s need to cling to this past.
Alicia Clements’ production design paints the perfect picture for the entire show, teetering between realism and fantasy. Far-spanning white curtains act as a gentle yet obstinate (an oxymoron if you ever saw one) barrier between the playing space and the outside world. The characters are continually looking out, searching, yet to no avail. Harley’s text features the recurring motif of being locked in and trying to get out, wonderfully framed by Clements’ set. All of the characters, at some point, feel hemmed in by their circumstances and yet no one has the ability to free them. Perhaps this is a fatalistic view of our lot in life.
The actors all do a wonderful job to bring the story to life. Simon London’s depiction of John is humanising of a man with mental illness and makes the audience desperately want to believe his reality. Seeing him love and care for the people around him only exacerbates the severity of the violence he perpetrates. London is artful in navigating this balance for utmost impact. Robert Alexander is quite heartbreaking as John and Wendy’s father, and his state would be recognisable to many with the increasing prevalence of dementia. He is plagued by the trauma of his past and Alexander expresses this with spontaneous, nearly erratic, movements and responses. Observing the way Wendy, played by Emma Palmer, dealt with her father believing he was going to visit his dead parents, or him wearing his slippers on his hands, I found myself wanting her to just play along. Would it really do any harm to pretend? In this sense, the situations were perfectly analogous, provoking thought and bringing to light great insight – for that Harley must be commended.
There’s a lot going on this one-hour play, but with Iain Sinclair’s direction it feels effortless to watch. New Australian work is always exciting to see come to the fore, and more to the point, it’s exciting when it’s good. Certain threads I would have liked to see tied up – not for the sake of a neat happy ending, but for clarity for audiences so we can better engage with the incisive ideas that permeate the work. It’s a treat to explore the world of make-believe, that’s for sure.