Delving into the darkness
By Ross Larkin
Quills might be Mockingbird Theatre’s most ambitious production to date. It’s their eighth show in two years and the first to be staged at North Melbourne’s Meat Market Pavilion.
Quills is about the Marquis de Sade’s last days and the discovery that even while incarcerated he has been writing 1200 page tomes depicting all things pornographic, sadistic and vile. The Marquis is stripped of his quills and paper in order to be silenced, yet finds other clever and twisted ways to maintain his mind’s workings until eventually he is stripped of everything else from limb to head.
Written by Doug Wright, the play sits somewhere between witty, unsettling, grotesque, political and shameful. Its success lies in the suggestion that the Marquis’ censors are the real criminals: far more insane and twisted than the Marquis himself. It’s a big bite for even the longest standing companies to chew, with its three-hour duration, non-stop dialogue and heavy array of social issues, and although the usually savvy Mockingbird Theatre and director Chris Baldock succeed on some levels, the production sadly falls short on others.
While the Meat Market Pavilion is a genius choice for the old lunatic asylum with its stark, wide-open spaces and shadowy corners perfectly lit to reflect such an environment, the scenes (with seating organised in traverse) are spread too far apart, making some dialogue difficult to hear and some scenes difficult to see with full impact.
The supporting cast of asylum inmates create some great atmosphere despite being distracting at times: however, it is for the main players to bear the bigger issues. Adam Ward’s performance as Dr Royer-Collard is so theatrically heightened as to be better suited to a caricature pantomime or circus ringmaster, whereupon every second line is shouted ad nauseam. Fortunately Andrea McCannon as Renee Pelagie and Dylan Watson as Abbe de Coulmier keep things grounded with their fine and believable portrayals.
It is Adrian Carr, however, who plays the Marquis, with the greatest weight on his shoulders. It’s a brave role for anyone to attempt: a daring, witty, controversial sexual deviant and naked for half the show. Throughout Act One, Carr comes across as more irritating than sinister with no signs of much-needed light and dark shading, yet by Act Two he proves he has a handle on the complex and multifaceted character of the Marquis, and delivers some chilling moments indeed.
As usual, the quality Mockingbird stamp can be seen overall in Quills: it’s just a shame that the questionable areas were significantly felt.
Quills is playing now from August 5 – 15 at 8pm and Sunday August 10 at 5pm at the Meat Market Pavilion, 5 Blackwood street, North Melbourne. Tickets at http://www.mockingbirdtheatre.com.au/