President Wilson in Paris by Ron Blair. HIT Productions at Tuggeranong Arts CentreAugust 16-17, 2005.
The Lesson by Ionesco, The Maids by Genet, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Albee - President Wilson by Ron Blair. I don't think so.
But, even if the play doesn't have the sophistication of its forebears, it could have been a much more entertaining night out than I saw on Tuesday. Described by the Victorian Department of Education (Senior Drama playlist) as an "absurdist comedy thriller", I saw a mild attempt at psycho-realism, some funny bits (mainly in the second half), and nothing very thrilling. Billed also as "in the style of Hitchcock", this production just did not rise to the required level of horror.
What a shame, when the actors - especially Henri Szeps (President Wilson) and Deborah Kennedy (Edith Wilson) - are very well-known and highly professional, as is the director, Jennifer Hagan. In fact I thought relative newcomer Henry Nixon (down and out actor, amateur burglar and Wilson's adviser Colonel House) was the most consistent performer.
Though it was clever to update the political references and the setting with some nice one-liners, the production needed to go well over the top to highlight the absurdity, create an increasing sense of madness at which we might laugh until we are brought up with shock at the finality of death. Or, we could have been treated to a rising sense of ghoulish foreboding - with laughs to temporarily break the tension - as we watch Nixon's character writhe until he is finally put out of his misery.
Either way would have required a bond between the actors, particularly between Szeps and Kennedy as psychopathic husband and wife, which just was not there on the night. Lines were even fluffed, timing was rarely right, the flow of the play broke too often into little eddies which could be mildly interesting in themselves but were not joined to form a mighty river.
And so, having gone to see one of the minor icons of Australian theatre, performed by class actors including Henri Szeps who has major icon status, I was disappointed.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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