La Boite & Griffin Theatre company
5th – 26th May 2012
In a pristine white setting (Designer Renee Mulder), against a photographer’s backdrop used in conjunction with images projected onto 2 screens (Music, Sound & AV Designer Steve Toulmin) to create “hotel room”, we meet four mismatched characters, each with their own issues and their own perfectly acceptable selfish agendas. One is a literary agent and one is her PA. One is a writer. No one has heard of him because he’s a middle class, white skinned social worker. One is an Aboriginal girl. No one has heard of her because she’s a lower class, black skinned Indigenous chick. They are all desperately unhappy in their ridiculous situations (ie normal life) and seek success and happiness via that dodgy vehicle, fame. And why not? Everyone’s a star! Aren’t they?
(Thank you, that’s all we need today).
If you must create this future for yourself, here is what you’ll need:
- A bit of ambition (it doesn’t take much, just enough to make you brave enough to take the first steps towards your new, incredible life as a famous person)
- A supportive somebody (it doesn’t matter who it is as long as they promise to stick to the script)
- A tough skin (never mind those cynics, they’re delusional themselves. Don’t they see what the public sees?)
- Access to the media (and a YouTube account, a Twitter account and a Facebook page that are all regularly updated by your brazen manager, agent or their PA. See below)
- A brazen manager or agent and their marginalised-in-whatever-way PA (none of them have to believe in you they just have to make others believe in you. They’re probably jealous of you anyway and will skim as much as they can off the top so you’d better be famous AND crazy wealthy)
- A story to make ‘em weep (or cringe in horror. n.b. it doesn’t need to be true it just needs to be SOLD)
So, you see? Achieving fame and notoriety is easy! Everyone’s a winner! So we are led to believe. This modern restoration comedy smashes that perception and then, strangely, disturbingly, reinforces it.
The star of the show is the brilliant premise and it’s a doozy! Inspired by some of the great contemporary literary hoaxes (the misery memoir or fake autobiography), A Hoax proves that Rick Viede was not a one hit wonder with his Premier’s Literary Award winner in 2010, Whore but an up and coming ROCK STAR. I can perfectly envisage his career catapulting, at the same rapid pace and in the same general upward direction, as the fictitious character Currah’s does during the course of the play. Let’s hope there’s no mistaking his identity though!
Remember Barry Levinson’s 1997 film, Wag the Dog, about the creation of a war hero? A Hollywood producer and a spin-doctor dream up a fictitious war to distract the American public from a presidential sex scandal. It works! It’s marketing! It’s ALL marketing. Of course, on the other end of every successful hoax, there’s human nature. In any context, we all want to believe.
I love the play – with some reservations because any variation on Stockholm syndrome is unnerving and the notion of anyone taking delight in the horrendous abuse she’s suffered is completely unsettling – it’s refreshing, raw work of heightened realism, allowing a great deal of profanity and non-PC-ness (sexism, racism and issues surrounding homophobia are rife), which means it is bound to work equally as well, if not better, as a screenplay. Viede states in the program notes that he is happy with the political shocks in the play but at times the heightened delivery does him (and the play) a disservice by sanitising the shocking truth of our modern media-run world.
I found the world premiere a little clunky. We could feel the gears shifting, as if a Learner driver had gotten their hands on a shiny new Ferrari! Shame! A week into the run, I have no doubt that this will have been remedied. I feel that, in its baby state, the piece is overwritten and I expect the red pen will come out before A Hoax goes on in Sydney. Interestingly, in conversation during the interval, with Griffin’s Artistic Director, Sam Strong, he commented that it was good to see the work getting “a bit of a clean up” on the Brisbane stage. Director, Lee Lewis, has clearly allowed for some play time during the rehearsal process and now her actors need to settle in and play!
Overwritten, slightly self-indulgent scenes in Act 1, that languish over a singular point, sometimes feel drawn out and a little repetitive. Act 2, at a cracking pace, works better. The climatic scene works like a shock to the system and it visibly affected the audience on opening night. In an instant, uncanny silence replaced uneasy laughter. We know what is going to happen, we’re dreading the cruel inevitability (it’s set up extremely well) but even just the sense of it is enough for me, without having to sit through the entire humiliating scene. Truly squirm-worthy, perhaps that’s the point. Overload the senses, boost the shock factor, get the people talking and get the sales!
Shari Sebbens is a wonderful, real and really pretty shocking Currah. She’s the brash, loud-mouthed (foul-mouthed) stereotypical Indigenous kid, with a fabricated past and a bright future, as long as she can gain – and retain – control of it. Sally McKenzie is at her best, in her driest version of the stereotypical Sydney literary agent, Ronnie Lowe. There’s a plum role for Sally in David Williamson’s play, Emerald City. I know because I played opposite Robyn Nevin in the role in Noosa for a special event produced by the Corrilee Foundation and Noosa Longweekend. Interestingly, Glenn Hazeldine directed the Melbourne production of One Night in Emerald City at the Malthouse.
The arc of A Hoax gives Tyrell Parks the biggest journey and Eric Morris trained Charles Allen doesn’t let up or let us escape from his side for a moment. He gets under our skin as we bear witness to his meteoric rise from rags to rehab to riches. He who dares wins! There is some brilliant, crude comedy from Allen before he reveals Tyrell’s darker side. It’s Hazeldine however, as Dooley, who impresses most, quietly simmering and staying hidden in the shadows, supporting his “ward” as far as the public are concerned but sticking his white, middle class nose in where it’s not wanted, according to Tyrell and Lowe. In this role, Hazeldine demonstrates how to beautifully underplay the pivotal character.
It’s taken me almost a week to write this review (sorry), because I really loved it but didn’t really LOVE it, you know? But A Hoax is so real and at the same time, so OTT that others are bound to love it. If you don’t, let me know and we’ll discuss it over a drink. Viede has my utmost respect and A Hoax gets my vote for most surprising new work – there’s no doubt it’s a sure-fire hit – but it hasn’t got all my love…yet.