Directed by Greg Carroll
Poor Toms Gin
The Old Fitz Theatre
129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo
Season: 15 – 26 March
At the end of the day, an actor is merely vessel for the story to be told. However, no matter how fantastic the story is, if the vessel is no good, the audience can’t enjoy it. When a story is reliant on a cast of one, this notion is only exacerbated. In case of Swansong, audiences can embrace the best of both worlds with the riveting writing of Connor Mcdermottroe impeccably delivered by Andre de Vanny. Going from strength to strength, de Vanny explores the tale of Occi, an illegitimate child growing up in an Irish Catholic town with power and precision. With a dazzling energy that radiates throughout the entire work, you won’t be able to look away.
From the get-go, de Vanny lets you know that he is in control on the stage. The erratic energy of Occi is somewhat infectious, giving me a grin that I couldn’t wipe off my face… until de Vanny decided he would wipe it off for me. De Vanny is highly intentional in his evocation of emotion, and works to craft a multifaceted character. Occi is a persona that doesn’t sit well with you as an audience member, as we have grown so accustomed to the goodies and baddies of entertainment, and being told who and when to feel sympathetic. Occi is likeable and makes you laugh on numerous occasions, and yet this effect is polarised by the outright despicable things he decides to do. De Vanny and director Greg Carroll entrust the audience with the ability to withhold judgement, aiming to develop an open attitude to the events laid out on the stage, rather than cultivate likeability. I assume that Carroll and de Vanny have worked closely on the physicality conveyed in the play with the myriad movements sustaining dynamism and unpredictability, propelled continually by de Vanny’s tireless energy. It is spellbinding to watch.
It is incredible how the cumulative power of institutions, language, and a community can garner societal approval, or disapproval, of a person in a certain situation – and in turn influence the individual’s perception of themselves. I felt the affective nature of language stood out to me, as we seem to be desensitised to ‘bad words’ today, and yet name-calling used in a certain context can brutally cut to the core of the nasty societal attitudes held against marginalised groups. This irrational hate lingers in our contemporary society, a sinister force in the realm of global and everyday politics. It is important to try to understand this force, knowing that without a conscious push fight against it, ignorance and hate will continue to rile its ugly head. Carroll’s production, spearheaded by de Vanny, provides fascinating insight into a boy hemmed in by this social pressure, and reacting in some of the worst ways imaginable. And yet, we can still empathise with him. We can rationalise the long term factors that pre-empted his actions. And in the end, de Vanny’s Occi could be a lesson for all of us in the worthiness of active compassion and understanding for the people we’d rather render invisible.