"Do we feel it?"
Christmas is about family; celebrating history and the mundane. A few minutes into Once In Royal David's City, by playwright Michael Gow, Jeannie Drummond (Alice Livingstone) reminded us of that mundanity as she reminisced of the beach that her family always went to on holiday. It was always the same house, always the same conversation (“How’s the sister? What are the neighbours up to?”) and always the same spot on the beach by the lifesaver’s pole. Livingstone’s delivery was strikingly Australian, and the precise locales are familiarly, and lovingly, Gow. Recounting losing her son, Will (Francisco Lopez), at the beach one time when he was six, throughout the show we watch Will, an adult now, lose (and gain) tremendous amounts.
Most exciting about this show was Gow’s formal experimentation, trying his hand at Brecht's alienation effect but in a way that is typically “Australian” (with all the irony that the white-Australian larrikin trope carries with it). It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the first half-hour of the show is rich with invention. The ensemble acting, stagecraft, direction, lighting, and design are spot on. Big accolades to Patrick Howard (Director), Victor Kalka (Production & Lighting Designer), Ryan Devlin (Sound Designer), Trudy Ritchie (AD), and Luciana Nguyen (Costume Assistant).
But after about 30 minutes of this back and forth in time and place as Will waits for his mother at the airport, the inventiveness goes away as if on holiday too. Lopez, as the lead, was required to often narrate and act the story out, however, seemed to pull punches. The action itself was as high-stakes as it comes; this is going to be someone’s last Christmas. And we hear that, sure, but do we feel it?
The audience was kept at a critical distance from the action on stage, apparently to become intellectually aware of the political and social systems of oppression at work, and as such was treated to some great exposition on Brecht, and his alienation effect. This critical distance though, seeped into the action, so that life and death didn't feel lived as much as intellectually appreciated.