The Wives of Hemingway

It says something about a performance when it needs to be moved to a new venue due to the original one selling out.

Wives of Hemingway
Wives of Hemingway. Image by David Collins

For a dark, tragic comedy, The Wives of Hemingway had a lot of fun with itself, provided a relaxing atmosphere, and was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

A vicious love triangle between two women and a man, where everyone loves everyone else, takes the audience on a rollercoaster of gender confused experimentation. It is a fictionalised interpretation of Ernest Hemingway’s transition from his first to his second wife. Wilson steals Catherine, the wife of an old friend named Teddy, and they elope to go big-game hunting on safari. Catherine decides she wants a woman of her very own, and lures a naïve Helen into the group.

The performance is written and performed by Tim Watts, Adriane Daff and Josh Price, along with director Zoe Pepper and co-writer Wyatt Nixon Lloyd. It felt like there are many voices present in the performance, and that is in no way detrimental. The obviously collaborative effort only enhances the natural charm of the show and sends a stronger message about Hemingway’s obsession with power, masculinity, and sexual roles.

The actors proved to be versatile both in their acting and in their skills, with the show containing everything from singing and dancing to slow motion action sequences. Tim Watts is the only actor who portrayed a single character: Wilson. Adriane Daff predominantly portrays the confronting, bold Catherine, while Josh Price portrays Teddy, a gun salesman, and Helen. Towards the last third of the performance, Adriane and Josh trade places as Catherine and Helen.

Each of the trio was brimming with energy. The changes in character effectively complement the over-the-top, light-hearted atmosphere and the underlining themes of power and gender confusion in Hemingway’s life and written work. Unfortunately, Adriane is a more forceful Catherine, and Josh a more pathetic Helen; even though their switch added to the whimsy of the performance, it did detract from consistency in the characters.

Extensive and elaborate, the set and sound design (Nate Nisbet) is a highlight. Zoe Pepper’s direction sees every inch of the stage used, while the lighting (Chris Isaacs) illuminates the front, middle and rear as movement requires it. Being set outside, the space was already very open, but the full use of everything available to the technical crew and the actors opened it up just that little bit more.

It’s really something when the unwavering enthusiasm of the actors is transferred to the audience. Highly enjoyable, disturbing, and tragic, The Wives of Hemingway kept its audience laughing aloud for much of the performance. With some subtle and less subtle themes that delve into the mind of Hemingway through a fictionalised story, it was nice to watch a show that didn’t take itself too seriously.

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