Directed by Clemence Williams
Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre
Corner of City Road and Cleveland Street, Chippendale
Season: 23 March – 2 April
The relationship between art and money is a murky one. As much as many would like to believe in the free and noble ideals of artistic expression, one must consider the possibility that art could not exist without being commercialised in some form. And yet, the two notions (that of finance and creative works) viciously butt heads on so many levels. Money insidiously influences art’s creators, subjects, appreciation and remuneration…perhaps to a degree far greater than we can grasp. It is this fascinating relationship that is explored in Thomas De Angelis’ play Unfinished Works, directed by Clemence Williams. The very fact that I am formally reviewing the show is somewhat an irony (what does my opinion matter? Stop selling the show…gosh) and yet, here I am. Try to embrace the paradox.
Frank Ralco is a famous contemporary Australian artist. But right now, she has an artistic block. Her agent Jimmy is doing everything he can to encourage her to work again and take up a hefty financial offer for one of her artworks. Frank crosses paths with Vince, a construction developer, who is married to Paula, a powerhouse lawyer, both of whom are parents to Isabel – architecture student and aspiring artist. Entanglements ensue.
Critically, the show features a wonderful cast. Williams’ direction gradually introduces the audience to the various characters, each who bring out different light and shade in the other cast members. Tension in these relationships escalate to the point of overflow, which proves to be highly engaging, augmented by the entirety of the cast’s warm embrace of De Angelis’ hilarious script. Lucy Goelby plays Frank with great strength, embodying the striving for artistic integrity. Her voice work is impeccable, with an ability to cut under an argument with understated power. Her eyes tell the rest of the story – a joy to watch. Kyle Kazmarzik brings a kooky sassiness to the role of Jimmy that heightens the comedy already inherent in the text. While Deborah Galanos as Paula Martin did have splendid comic timing, she didn’t strike me as the hotshot lawyer as she was described. It did irk me that the esteemed President of the Women's Legal Association was sitting passively, filing her nails, throughout an argument about the exchange of paintings, involving contractual implications. I would have liked to see a person of her caliber with a little more to say on the matter.
Aware that the issues highlighted in the play could be labelled archetypal ‘first world problems’ of the ‘elite art world’, I ask myself why I care. Why do I care that access to art is largely restricted to the wealthy? Why do I care that people think you have to be intellectual to ‘get’ art? Put very simply, it’s because I believe that art can impart a powerful message, or arouse feeling. And I think everyone is better off for it. Unfinished Works provokes crucial thought about the workings of an industry that is supposed to pioneer alternative thinking and new ideas. Lest we become complacent.