Is it possible for a story to be bloody and bloodless at the same time?

Griffin Independent/Bareboards Productions
SBW Stables Theatre

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Is it possible for a story to be bloody and bloodless at the same time? The answer, in the case of Crestfall at least, appears to be yes. Mark O’Rowe’s tale of woe in the badlands of Ireland spells out just about every kind of nastiness you can think of. Yet the interpretation presented here is slightly patchy.
O’Rowe’s presents three monologues by women living in a perpetual war zone inhabited by pimps, hookers, dealers and psychos. The town strumpet (Sarah Snook), a harried mother (Eliza Logan) and the local junkie (Georgina Symes) take us through a day in the life of their town. This involves lots of sex, casual violence visited upon animals and children, and the local pervert’s dog with its third eye.
This is something that would normally be depicted as a male world, dominated by big swinging appendages (or the need to compensate for the lack thereof). O’Rowe chooses to view this world from the feminine point of view, showing women trying to hold their own, using their wits as weapons, with varying degrees of success. I wouldn’t exactly call this a great feminist work, but Rowe’s attempt to tell the story from this point of view is interesting.
For a play that contains some pretty graphic descriptions of violence, injured children and animal cruelty, Crestfall is strangely devoid of friction. This is partly because O’Rowe’s writing never really lets you forget that you’re in an audience watching a play. The studiously studied naturalism of the characters’ speeches is a little contrived. It’s hard not to be distracted by wondering who he’s trying to be – James Joyce or Guy Ritchie?
Snook and Logan perform well – Snook regards everyone with a sneering, bored condescension, while Logan’s performance is an eloquent blend of strength and self-doubt. Yet they lack the necessary tension that should be building through the play. Instead you get the feeling that, say, an impromptu gladiatorial combat between a horse and a pickaxe-wielding maniac is just another day at the office.
This isn’t helped by the anaemic production design, which consists solely of lighting and a couple of sound effects. While you wouldn’t want these elements to dominate the performances, you’d at least hope they’d help to set the mood, instead of acting as wallpaper.
Crestfall does spring to life in the final act, thanks largely to Symes. She has a little more to work with than Snook and Logan. Her character is completely wired, and her adventures bring things to a particularly brutal climax. But beyond that Symes’ performance gives the impression that she is completely consumed by both her own character, and the nasties that she encounters. There were a couple of instances right before the big, over-the-top, everyone-gets-what’s-coming-to-them scene where she made my hair stand on end.
I did enjoy many aspects of Crestfall. It contains some great moments of humour, pathos and horror. But what bothered me the most is that I often found my mind wandering. I’m someone who is particularly squeamish when it comes to depictions of bloody violence, so I should have felt at least a little drained when I walked out of the theatre. Instead the post-performance conversation was taken up with a debate about which writer O’Rowe wants to be the most – Beckett or Tarantino?

Bookings: (02) 8002 4772

Until 30 January 2010

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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