Directed by Mark Kilmurry
78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli
Season: 24 March – 6 May
Centre-stage is a big old bar - well-weathered and cluttered with beers and spirits to keep a pub crowd happy. This place has been the home at the heart of a husband and wife for years, since they were kids, and now they own the place. Kilmurry's production is a two-hander with Kate Raison and Brian Meegan playing the pub owners in a loveless marriage, as well as the innumerable frequenters of the pub. Awash with monologues and cameo interactions, the play is sweet and comedic at times and yet ultimately I couldn't shake the niggling question of, 'why am I watching this? Why should I care?'
The relationship between artistic expression and the money that allows it to occur, is one that has long troubled me. Ensemble Theatre is the only non-government funded professional theatre company in Sydney, which is an impressive achievement in a society that largely fails to recognise the value of investing in the arts. By way of this achievement, it feels to me that the theatre feels an obligation to satisfy its loyal subscriber base, thereby churning out feel-good comedies that don't challenge people too much or push them into an uncomfortable realm. Safe and simple keeps the ticket-buyers content. Very few young people seem to venture the short distance to Kirribilli to the Ensemble, and there doesn't seem to be a keen desire to engage with young people when you consider their recent selection of plays to stage. To me, this is a short-sighted approach. While watching Two, as the spritely young person I am, I kept asking myself ‘why do I care about these characters and what they’re telling me?’ It wasn’t as if the issues weren’t important or human, nor am I cold hearted troll. I think the history and the depth of the two key characters, where the critical drama resides, wasn’t established in the initial scenes so that once we began to uncover this underlying tension, there was no foundation for me to care much for these characters. What was left, was old-fashioned bickering in daggy (yet humorous) 80s outfits.
Brian Meegan and Kate Raison take on a number of roles and achieve variation, which is commendable. Some of these characters were genuinely rather funny and some had moments of emotional authenticity and complexity. In some situations, we are only given stock characters of sorts. Kilmurry has opted for the actors to adopt a miming technique for the actors to constantly serve and clean up drinks without having to manage an exorbitant amount of props. While an understandable obstacle, the technique detracts from the overall effect of the play, pulling you out of engagement with the story. The technique is extended to cover actions such as miming putting on lipstick, and handing over money. It just looks a bit silly. Ultimately in the final scene, the story did strike a strong chord with the audience, with Meegan in particular making some poignant emotional explorations. You can’t argue that the audience wasn’t engaged and along for the ride with the actors, they really enjoyed themselves.
It’s a delicate tightrope to balance between pleasing an audience and seeking artistic excellence. For me this production of Two felt like an Ensemble crowd pleaser, rather than stemming from the crux of artistic boldness and integrity, in pursuit of bringing truth to the stage. It didn’t feel all that relevant to me and my life - which is fine, I don’t need to have a strong personal connection to all the theatre I see. And yet, I feel like there was a missed opportunity in speaking to the very human experiences that can be experienced or understood by any person, regardless of the year they were born.