The Eisteddfod

Presented by
Reviewed Friday 29th April 2011

Venue: Bakehouse Theatre, 255 Angas Street, Adelaide
Season: 8pm Wed to Sat until 14th May
Duration: 65min
Tickets: adult $25/conc $22/Fringe Benefits $18
Bookings: 8227 0505 or

American born playwright, Lally Katz, who came to Australia in her teens, wrote this absurdist piece in 2004 and it won the Excellence in Direction and Producer’s Choice Awards that year at the New York International Fringe Festival. It tells of two children, orphaned when their parents died in a most unusual horticultural accident, with a hint at Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, who have since shut themselves off from the outside world, creating a surreal world of their own inside the family home. There are, in fact, many references within this piece.

The action takes place in a claustrophobic room, a great design by Cassandra Backler, containing a bed, barely big enough for one, let alone two people, and a number of chairs, some mounted on the walls and the ceiling. Already we are presented with the bizarre in this strange setting, an ideal location for what we are to see and hear.

The siblings pass their time in playing games. They pretend to be their parents, she plays at being a teacher and he as an entrant in an Eisteddfod, where he will perform a scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. He also plays her abusive her lover, Ian, in a sadomasochistic relationship. There are strong suggestions, too, of incest and rape running through their mind games in this dark narrative. At the beginning Abalone appears to be in control of the role playing in which they engage, Gerture subservient to his wants and needs.

Kate Roxby and Brad Williams play Gerture and Abalone, the two children, at a time some years after the death of their parents. Gerture is pronounced the same as Goethe, perhaps a reference to her playing at being a teacher of German. With an imaginary teaching assistant and non-existent students, this is her private game that allows her to escape from her brother’s manipulative influence for a while, periods of tome that have been becoming longer, much to his displeasure.

He tries to bring her back under his influence by offering to have her play Lady Macbeth in the forthcoming competition, the prize, a possible reference to Chekhov, is calculated to appeal to her, being a one way ticket to Moscow. Like everything else, however, the Eisteddfod exists only in his imagination, and his performance in the competition, as in previous years, is deemed inadequate by the imaginary judges, with Gerture being the one returning wearing a blue rosette for her performance. By the end, the power play has reversed and she seems to now be the one in control. How long this will last is unknown.

Roxby and Williams are well-paired as the agoraphobic duo. Their performance is an intricate verbal dance, weaving around one another, each trying to lead, the power swinging to and fro in stages as they negotiate the complex, multi-layered script. There are plays within plays, and they each create a wealth of different characterisations as they take on the different roles in their game playing. They both give superbly believable performances that have a powerful effect on an audience in this often unpleasant, even distasteful tale that, in a way, reminds one of William Golding’s novel, The Lord of the Flies, another work that looks at what can happen when young people are cut off from the world and left to their own devices and imaginations.

Director, Corey McMahon, has embraced the complexity and strong themes within this work and crafted a well-balanced production that grabs and holds the attention. Ben Flett’s lighting and Jason Sweeney’s music complement his direction, adding to the uneasy feelings generated by this work. Take a trip to the intimate Bakehouse, grab a glass of wine to sip during the performance, and catch this production soon.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

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