Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed Wednesday March 3rd 2010 (See Festival Guide for dates, times, etc.)
Presented by The Adelaide Festival and Elevator Repair Service.
Bookings: BASS outlets 131 246 or http://www.adelaidefestival.com.au
This production is a dramatisation of the first part of William Faulkner’s book, the chapter entitled April Seventh, 1928. It is often referred to as Benjy’s Chapter as it is told from the viewpoint of Benjamin Compson, born Maury, initially named after his uncle but renamed by his mother at the age of five when his illness was unmistakable. He is a mute and mentally retarded 33 year old. His story is that of his family, descended from a Civil War General and once an aristocratic Southern dynasty, but now in decline.
His version of events is somewhat chaotic, leaping to and fro from his early childhood to current times as the memories, sometimes vague, often incomplete, occur to him. Only his sister, Caddy, and the servant Dilsey, wife to Roskus Gibson, seem to really care for him. He is upset when Caddy marries and is even more devastated when Caddy is cast out of the family, following her divorce, when her husband discovers her child was not his. Benjy is looked after by three attendants during his life, Roskus’s and Dilsey’s first son Versh as a small child, their second son T.P. as a teenager and now as an adult by Luster, their grandson by their daughter Frony.
David Zinn’s set is a large living room, with an old dining table at stage left, numerous mismatched chairs and with two large arches upstage at either side leading to double doors. It looks faded and well past its best, reflecting the family itself. The back wall at the centre is bare and fragments of text from the novel are projected there from time to time. Mark Barton’s lighting design and Matt Tierney’s sound design add atmosphere and assist in indicating time changes.
As time flicks back and forth different actors of both genders play each of the major roles. Sometimes characters will appear at two places on the stage, played by two different actors, as memories overlap. Occasionally one actor delivers the lines seated in a chair as another physically plays the role. This is not as confusing as it may sound as the dialogue also includes the name of the speaker as in ““Quentin”, mother said.”, thus identifying the character. Colleen Werthmann‘s designs for rapid costume changes also helps the audience keep track. Nonetheless, this is a production that demands concentration, just as does the novel. The audience is well rewarded for that effort.
Director and company founder, John Collins, has crafted a tightly woven production with considerable use of stylised, almost choreographic movement adding to the rich text. Mike Iveson, Vin Knight, Aaron Landsman, April Matthis, Annie McNamara, Randolph Curtis Rand, Greig Sargeant, Kate Scelsa, Kaneza Schaal, Susie Sokol and Ben Williams combine their talents in this powerful ensemble piece, sharing roles and constantly switching from one character to another as they negotiate the complexities of the endless flow of disjointed narrative.
The performances by all of the members of this company are superlative and their ensemble work is astounding. The pace is fast, the physicality is of a high level and the text is delivered clearly and shows a deep understanding of its meaning, with subtext shining through. This is an exceptional work that sent the audience away around talking intently about what they had just seen. Hurry to catch it.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Glam Adelaide Arts Editor.