La Boite Indie & Pentimento Productions
Supported by QPAC
October 14 – November 8 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Angel Gear: hooning down a hill without the car in gear.
This play is as pointless as the titular activity suggests. Lacking subtlety, mystery, substance and wit, the best part of Angel Gear is its end. And I mean, that it ends. It’s two hours of WHY and WTF? It’s Deliverance in Dalby (sorry, Dalby, that’s unfair), only Deliverance had complete characters. And a plot. And a point.
Look, if you get food poisoning in a restaurant it’s really hard to go back. The only way I’ll see another Sven Swenson play is if somebody I respect tells me I must. I suspect some of the other opening night audience members will have felt the same, despite the polite and genuinely appreciative applause at the conclusion. There is, after all, regardless of a disappointing outcome, a hell of a lot of work in staging a production.
I overheard a gentleman at interval on opening night lament, “After a very tough week it’s not lifting me up at all.” Well, we don’t always go to the theatre for a lift. Did Victor Hugo ever expect a rom-com to come out of Les Mis? Did Shakespeare or any of the ancients try to hide mankind’s miseries in their tragedies? Theatre makers are either creating entertaining theatre or they’re creating something that makes a statement, makes us think, and makes us want to see more…
The latest from Sven Swenson – sans Sven Swenson (he was sick on that first Saturday night and unfortunately, rather than offering an alternate performance, the decision was made to put Assistant Director, James Trigg on stage with book in hand) – offers one perspective of a subculture with which I can’t identify. Whether or not this group is accurately portrayed, I don’t know. I feel it must be but I hope that it’s not. I hope this is a grossly inaccurate picture of a seriously flawed lot of human beings. Sam, sadly, assures me it’s quite accurate. I’m glad I don’t recognise characters of this sort. This is the very essence of Aussie trailer park trash.
What’s it for? Why do we need this theatre, which makes us grit our teeth and leaves a bad taste in our mouths?
I was looking forward to experiencing this show because in conversations about Swenson’s last La Boite production, The Truth About Kookaburras, people confidently informed me that this is a man of great talent…and how dare I question anything at all from him. OH! Right.
I actually wanted to write a great review of a great production. It would be so much easier to give this a rave…or to say nothing at all. Good sense, that little voice, tells me, “Don’t write it!” Integrity tells me I must.
No doubt the sycophants, suckholes and arts worker wannabees will have their say, and y’all are entitled to your opinion too. Aside from the vitriol though, I look forward to hearing differing opinions, and exactly what it is you believe the artistic merit of Swenson’s work to be. If the purpose of this work is to shock audiences, it’s failed on that level too. We’re so desensitised now that we barely take in the crass language, brutal violence, sexism, homophobia, incest and the blatant representation of women as whores. If anything, despite a few witticisms within the crude, er, dialect (others find the insults and labels hilarious while I wonder why it is men must write anything that perpetuates these myths of scrags and sluts and whores), it all becomes a bit tedious and again, I have to wonder, what is it for? In experiencing this work how am I challenged and changed? Why would I take a friend or family member to see this play?
The constant barrage of gutter language, and the lack of any structure, intelligence and meaning, makes this piece, for me, nothing more than pointless drivel. The supposed shock factor contributes only to a whole new level of cheap-tricks-theatre, offering nothing new to the canon of Australian work.
The design is ugly, cheap and nasty, perhaps precisely as it was intended to be, and there are very few moments of convincing, dynamic character work, despite obvious attempts to create ebb and flow in a fairly flat story arc. The emphasis seems to have been on spitting words, shooting wary glances at each other and holding the inevitable forced glares that follow. Luckily, Casey Woods shines at times. As Jayanne, we sense some sort of fading vulnerability, which is completely overridden by single-minded determination to seek revenge and eventual satisfaction. The pace lags as poor Triggs struggles to drive the drama in the second act, which dissolves into a low budget hostage scenario, lazily penned and poorly presented.
We muse afterwards that Swenson should concentrate on writing plays for Short & Sweet. That way we could sit through just 10 minutes of self-indulgent sloppy setup and no plot, go to dinner and see a movie. Sam says out loud – he can’t help it, he’s still furious that his valuable time has also been wasted – that Pearl Harbour had a better plot!
Ultimately, the problem I have with this brand of theatre is Swenson’s blatant disrespect for audiences.
For years, I’ve seen Sven Swenson paraded before us, lauded by a certain circle. While I certainly respect the opinions of my peers, I’d love to know what it is that puts Swenson’s writing at the top of the Queensland theatre tree. Is there no competition? I know that’s not true. Somebody send me the scripts that have earned Swenson his reputation. Because I don’t see the merit. Surely it’s time to say, “The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!”.