Intelligent and invested production of Winton’s play
By Tania Herbert
Starting with an Acknowledgement of Country and transitioning straight into an Australianism-filled train-of-thought dialogue, it was immediately evident that we were in the theatre with one of Australia’s most celebrated writers, Tim Winton. Shrine is one of Winton’s three Western Australian-based plays, presented by Kin Collective and directed by Marcel Dorney.
The script content is not happy fare, telling the story of teenager Jack Mansfield (Christian Taylor) and his untimely death from a car accident that his bratty and drunk grammar-school friends (Nick Clark and Keith Brockett) manage to walk away from unscathed. His grieving parents (Chris Bunworth and Alexandra Fowler) find themselves struggling to come to terms with both their loss and their disbelief at the events as related by his school mates.
The catalyst come through interactions with June (Tenielle Thompson), an enigmatic and almost ghost-like character, who appears to Jack’s father Adam. She offers the chance for him to gain a last insight into his son, as she tells stories of moments from her long-term school-girl crush on Jack.
The central character of Adam – a stoic, grieving father filled with barely-contained rage – was masterfully captured by TV and theatre veteran Bunworth. The emotional range of both character and actor were engaging and believable, driving both the story and the emotion. Thompson as June plays counterpoint to his layers of emotional depth with a likeable and steady performance.
Dorney’s staging greatly added to the allure of the play, with the brick shrine centre stage functioning poignantly as prop, emotional barrier, or transitional object. This, with the heavy proscenium border and ambient soundtrack made the performance space reminiscent of a live cinema, with characters stepping from screen into the audience, beautifully capturing the theme within the play of moving between life and fiction.
The build-up and resolution were unpredictable, nuanced and somehow satisfying, in typical-Winton style. However, unfortunately there are serious eye-rolls evoked by the storyline’s gender stereotyping (quite touchingly reflected upon by the director in his program notes), with female characters presented only as passive recipients of abuse and grief. There was little Fowler could do with the character of Mary Mansfield as the wailing wife, who appears only to howl, berate her husband and embark on soliloquies of childbirth and motherhood. Her one short scene of a sweet memory with Jack is the only time she gets to be her own woman, and becomes a particularly moving moment of performance. The sections of stunted, overlapping sentences typical of Winton felt a little unnatural as more prose than dialogue – though the director used them to advantage, giving a lofty Greek-chorus feel to the unwinding of the tragedy.
Thus despite some script limitations, the direction and performances here are strong, the play engaging, and the lighting (designed by Kris Chainey) is just gorgeous. Fortyfivedownstairs was the perfect venue for a dive into what lies under the surface of Australian culture in Shrine.
Shrine is on at fortyfivedownstairs, May 24 – June 18, Tuesday – Saturday 8pm, Sunday 5pm.
Bookings: 02 9662 9966 or online at http://www.fortyfivedownstairs.com/wp2016/event/shrine-tim-winton/.
Ticket price: $30-45.
N.B. Shrine is part of 2017 VCE Drama Studies Unit 3 Curriculum – Thurs 1, 8 & 15 June 11am school matinees are for school groups only.