Updated: Oct 27, 2019
With an engaging amalgam of audio-visual elements, live music accompaniment and various theatrical genres, this production from Newcastle-based NFP organisation, Bearfoot Theatre, is a virulent exploration into expected societal roles and how they influence our identity, relationships and truth.
Staged at the Shopfront Arts Co-op, as part of its tour to Sydney, Playing Face settles us as a kind of live studio audience to the wildly popular reality television program, ‘Living with the Kings’, starring Mr and Mrs King, your quintessential suburban couple – in other words, the charming, confident showman and the subservient, smiling housewife. The show’s premise revolves around the Kings inviting two guests to reside with them for three days as the omnipresent cameras capture every moment. The episode we are treated to is the highly anticipated season finale starring musical duo, ‘The Wild Violets’ (Mr Jason Wilde and Miss Violet Young) as the Kings’ fortuitous guests. What ensues is a farcical albeit chillingly close to home experience as we witness the dynamic quartet grapple existentially as their external personas inevitably begin to disintegrate.
Each member of the compelling ensemble gave performances teeming with strength and emotional vulnerability. They were undoubtedly the ultimate powerhouse of the production. Harold Phipps commands the stage as the unrelenting chauvinist, Mr King whilst Carl Gregory dynamically portrays Mr Wilde, the typical struggling artist desperately trying to achieve catharsis through his work. Stephanie Priest embodies the characteristics, optimism and behaviours of the stereotypical housewife (Mrs King) with great success and brings a touching sympathy to the role, particularly when she lets us see her real self. Rounding off the quartet, Anna Lambert (Violet Young) gives an incredibly moving and emotionally raw performance as she humanises her ‘whore’ archetype.
The initial audio element of the production defines the title of the production: “Playing Face - to pretend to be what you believe you should be; or to perform the persona you believe yourself to have; or to play the role you have been assigned so well that your true self falls away, and what is left, is just a face”. The inclusion of this definition may have been a tactic to clue the audience in on what the production was going to be about. Unfortunately, it seemed to establish a trend of giving the audience too much information, leaving little for them to figure out themselves and resulting in the certainty of predictability. The primary theme of the story (i.e. the exploration of our identity and self-truth as we ‘play a face’) is one that has been at the centre of some of the most enduring narratives in history and thus, we know how it goes. As such, we need that story to adapt, take a different road or at the very least, have an uncertain ending so that the audience is kept engaged and speculating. Though we were drawn into the unique idea of Living with the Kings and the live accompaniment (Kieran Norman) that tugged at our sentimentality, the primary story still remained the same and forayed into familiar clichés, particularly character-wise as each of the archetypical characters ended up just as we expected them to. Irrespective of this, Cassie Hamilton has penned some truly superb rhetoric and it is evident that she has put her blood, sweat and tears into this production and she must be commended, particularly for her provocative and tenacious direction.
Despite having a fair idea of what was going to happen at the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this production. The absurdist aspects and ludicrous character reactions had me chuckling in between the dark thread the story was weaving. I loved the whole idea of Living with the Kings and as I write this, I am humming the theme tune! But overall, it was the heart-wrenching performances that had me enthralled. Anna Lambert’s nuanced, multi-faceted performance as Violet Young literally moved me to tears and unlike the anguished Mr Wilde, she induced me into some kind of catharsis.
Venue Shopfront Arts Co-op (Carlton), 23rd – 26th October 2019
Director Cassie Hamilton
Playwright Cassie Hamilton
Cover Image by Riley McLean (Bearfoot Photography)
DISCLAIMER: This and all other reviews posted by A Millennial with an Opinion/JTA Official/Jessie Trompp are the honest personal opinions of a theatre-goer and are not reflective in any way of the opinions of others who have seen the production.