How to negotiate relationships is a common theme in contemporary theatre. In Ride and Fourplay, two works by Australian playwright, Jane Bodie, those themes are front and centre. Bodie’s works also endeavour to highlight the way in which people use language to conceal their desires as much as reveal them, according to Anthony Skuse.
Skuse is currently director of a program that sees Bodie’s works performed back-to-back each night at the Eternity Playhouse – the home of the wonderful Darlinghurst Theatre Company.
In Ride, Joe (Tom O’Sullivan) and Elizabeth (Emma Palmer) wake up in bed together. Their recollection of the activities of the previous evening could be described, at best, as fleeting. They’ve never met before, they don’t mix in the same circles, so how did they wind up having a sexual encounter in Joe’s apartment? And what precisely was the extent of that encounter? Over 90 minutes, the pair shares insights about themselves with each other, as they try to piece the puzzle together.
O’Sullivan and Palmer performances are excellent, and their exchanges don’t tend to veer into the far-fetched or implausible. It all feels believable, helped by the fact there’s strong chemistry between the actors. Ride is well paced and builds to an appeasing (although predictable) final exchange. It’s an enjoyable 90 minutes.
All of the action occurs within the walls of Joe’s bedroom and the simple set, designed by Hugh O’Connor, is entirely appropriate. Lighting is also simple but effectively and thoughtfully used.
Following a short interval, the players dive straight into the second work of the evening, Fourplay. It’s here the themes of obsession and communication are central. Tom (O’Sullivan, once again) is an actor in a relationship with care attendant, Alice (Gabrielle Scawthorn). While performing in a play, a relationship with co-star, Natasha (Palmer), develops. Meanwhile, Alice starts to become better acquainted with her odd co-worker, Jack (Aaron Glenane), who also happens to be stalking her.
Palmer’s performance as the alluring Natasha affords her the ability to showcase her impressive versatility. It’s a character distinctly different from that she took on earlier in the evening, and her acting choices are consistently successful. Scawthorn also deserves commendation. Her portrayal of the not-so-sympathetic Alice was compelling. Similarly, Glenane’s take on the curious Jack was virtually flawless.
A choice made in the staging of Fourplay was to have actors deliver their lines to the audience instead of each other. While some may applaud the choice, this reviewer felt it detracted from the piece to have each actor adopt this mode of delivery for the entire piece. Additionally, no performer ever leaves the stage (the set for Fourplay comprises only a single raked platform), and how successful that choice is, is certainly debatable. Some audience-goers may enjoy having the opportunity to see the players share their own reactions as events unfold, as though they themselves are mere audience members. But this reviewer found the choice caused some distraction from the primary action.
And while the themes explored and the characters’ interactions certainly made for thought-provoking theatre, it would perhaps have worked to shave 15 to 20 minutes off the piece, in order to deliver audiences something punchier and possibly more impactful.
Ride and Fourplay make for an enjoyable evening of theatre thanks, in large part, to the high calibre performances of each player (and, perhaps, Ride on its own sufficiently satiates!)