After nearly falling off my chair laughing at one of 5pound's recent productions, Noises Off (with many of the same impressive cast members) it was understandable that I had high hopes for their final play in the five week repertory run, Sex Diary of an Infidel, written by Australian playwright, Michael Gurr.
Perhaps it was my unrealistic expectation that the night's enjoyment levels would surpass my last visit to The Owl and the Pussycat, or perhaps it really was the performance, but for me, Sex Diary of an Infidel failed to titillate and the more I think about it, the more I think it was the play itself that I wasn’t particularly compelled by and not necessarily 5pound’s production of it.
The primary feeling that I got as the play progressed, particularly after the second half commenced, was that it dragged, there was no momentum. My date for the evening also felt a drag and there seemed to be unexplored character arcs, or at least, a lack of a believable emotional journey for many of the characters. In most of the pairings (this play was very couple orientated) the relationships seemed underdeveloped and unrealistic, I refer here particularly to that of 'the actress', played by Lelda Kapsis and the ex-junkie, Tony played by Brendan Hawke. I believe this to be the result of the writing and not necessarily the performances as I thought the two were reasonably well cast, particularly Kapsis as the aspiring thespian.
What was consistent with the last play I saw from 5pound was the impressive performance of Keith Brockett who played Toni, the Molotov-throwing Pilipino transsexual. I thought his portrayal was the most dynamic of the cast and I was thrilled to see such range in this performer from the role he played in Noises Off (the alcoholic butt of many of the jokes). As for the rest of the cast, they’re undoubtedly a talented group of young actors and were all skilful in their respective deliveries of what were some challenging and at times, loquacious monologues. I just wasn’t compelled by their character trajectories.
In addition to the actress and ex-junkie pairing, I also found it difficult to understand the relationship between the Aussie pimp, played by Tim Wotherspoon and Jean, the award-winning journalist, played by Freya Pragt. I found it difficult to accept or believe that they’d had a romantic engagement years prior to Jean’s visit to the Philippines and that the sexual encounter was so insatiable that the pimp had subsequently abstained from sexual relationships with anyone else since.
I felt that despite some exceptions (generally between Toni and the pimp), the only thrilling scene in the whole play was between Jean and her partner Martin (Nate Charles Troisi) as they ended their odd relationship, but it took the whole play to get to it and by that point I was already tuning in to the sometimes intrusive sounds of Swan Street outside the theatre. Damn those acoustics at The Owl and the Pussycat for distracting me! Tim Wotherspoon was indeed impressive and appropriately frightening at times as the pimp, although I found his laconic drawl a little predictable for the role of a sleazy, manipulative Aussie. My date for the evening disagreed though, so perhaps this assessment is unfair.
As for the set design, I was intrigued by it at first but found it distracting to be constantly shifting my focus between what they had established as the varying locations in Melbourne and Manila. I wasn’t particularly compelled by the soundtrack either, although it incorporated some classic hits that the audience seemed to enjoy. The costume design was particularly apt though so I applaud them for their choices in this department.
In summary, while the themes explored by the script had the potential to be compelling, notably that of sex tourism and Australia’s involvement in it, I wasn’t enthralled. One theme did resonate though and that was the idea that all different kinds of relationships can be burdened by exploitation and dishonesty. While the exploitation theme was well developed, dishonesty was introduced too close to the end of the play which made the second half feel very quickly loaded with a whole range of new and indeed heavy themes that then didn’t get explored.
I hate being negative about this troupe of young performers but overall, I just didn’t really enjoy Sex Diary of an Infidel. On a slightly different note, I was not surprised that my post-post play research revealed Michael Gurr to be a screenwriter as well. Both my date for the evening and I thought that the play could be brilliantly adapted for the screen, as long as the relationships between the characters and the trajectory of the narrative attracted some more concise exploration.