It’s a scary world out there and Elling would rather have nothing to do with it. His mother used to take care of everything, until she died, leaving him middle-aged and institutionalised. Such is the tale of Elling coming to Melbourne Theatre Company later this month.
Versatile actor Darren Gilshenan will once again be giving life to Elling after the play's initial run at the Sydney Theatre Company. Gilshenan is no stranger to Australian audiences having completed a three year stint on Full Frontal as well as winning a Logie for Best Outstanding Comedy Show in Derrick. Amongst his many industry awards Gilshenan was honoured with the 2004 Helpmann Award for Best Actor in a Play as Truffaldino in the Servant of Two Masters. Gilshenan declares this his most challenging and enjoyable role to date stating: "It took it out of me in every way, physically emotionally and intellectually. 250 shows of circus, slapstick commedia and improvisation. I’ve never been fitter and enjoyed performing a show as much."
Gilshenan's was first bitten by the acting bug at age 11 when he performed a self declared ridiculous skit backlit by a raging campfire at a world Scout jamboree. "I remember the quality of the feeling vividly," he explains. "Terrifying, exciting and bloody fun ending in cheers. That felt like something I wanted to do again." That foray into the unknown led Gilshenan to NIDA where he graduated in 1988. Gilshenan is not only an accomplished actor and performer but is a director, writer, and acting teacher – this last giving him a great opportunity to give back. "To facilitate courage and risk in a rehearsal room is deeply satisfying," he says. "To get the trust of the actor and watch them find stuff they didn’t think they had in them."
Gilshenan also lists a good facilitator as being one of the criteria for his definition of a good director. Another is a good listener. "And if nothing’s going on bring plenty of Ideas to the rehearsal room," he adds. " A director is someone who can draw on a wide range of theatre styles and is available to everyone in all departments. A good communicator and mediator. Research helps actors with parameters."
Director Pamela Rabe and Gilshenan once again team up this time brining Elling to Melbourne and, it would seem, a mutual admiration society has very quickly developed. "I had such joy directing Darren Gilshenan in Elling a few years back. I wanted to get a whole new team together and share this play and his extraordinary performance with Melbourne audiences," says Rabe. Gilshenan describes the rehearsal room as a place for creative exploration. "We laugh, we play and we explore with vigor," he says. "Maybe because Pamela is such a terrific actor herself she understands what other actors dig and she runs an easy and creative room where everyone gets a voice. It’s a joy to go into that passionate room each day and create."
Based on the original Norwegian novel by Ingvar Ambjørnsen, Elling is an endearingly quirky work. Elling himself is a super-smart, super-sensitive poet who likes to sleep in his wardrobe and write in his notebook. His roommate and only friend in this world is a hotdog-eating, greatly ambitious, sex-obsessed 40-yearold virgin named Kjell Bjarne. After years in the asylum, Elling and Kjell are given a leave pass to see if they can survive unsupervised in the outside world. They’re given a flat in the centre of Oslo by social services, containing two bedrooms, two beds, a kitchen and a telephone. All they have to do now is convince their social worker Frank that they can assimilate. Over the course of the play they build an oddly close-knit friendship as they struggle with ‘life on the outside'. For Gilshenan playing Elling is a work that is life affirming. He describes it as a journey from ridged anxiety to free charismatic expression and adds that it shines a whimsical and fragile light on the marginal. Fortuitously for both parties, Rabe found the play and sought out her Elling. " The skill set needed for the role is eclectic and the emotional range is vast.," says Gilshenen. " She thought I could pull off the fragile drama and clowning required. I’m back doing it again because I miss the little bugger and it’s a wonderful role."
A journey with Elling is a journey into the human heart. Gilshenan feels the message of Elling is simple: "Face your fears, hold your friends dearly and find expression. This is a thoroughly life affirming piece of theatre and I love being a part of that message. It’s beguiling and intense at once. "
Venue Southbank Theatre, The Sumner
Season Dates 29 October to 8 December 2012
Opening Night Thursday 1 November 2012 at 8pm
Booking Details Southbank Theatre Box Office 03 8688 0800or mtc.com.au