Review by Kate Gaul
This is a new play – a two act family drama – by Noel Hodda. It’s a story spread over decades. It begins with Aussie traveller and burgeoning artist (Tom Cossettini) in Europe, armed with a version of the box brownie camera, a printed phrasebook. It’s the 1980s – the vintage phone and phrase book are hints. Maybe too the costuming but it’s hard to tell – and everything old is new again, anyway. The play flips forward in time to Canberra in the present with 2 siblings - a parliamentary adviser (David Adlam) and music composer (Sophie Gregg) going over recent family tragedy and making a pact to assist each other with an early exit if it ever became necessary. Elsewhere, an older artist (David Woodland) who may have dropped out hides his own wounds. There’s also a nurse (Kate Bookallil) and a very animated French woman (Omray Kupeli), who plays pivotal roles in both the past and the present as different characters. This is a play of love and loss. It uses recognisable paintings of Van Gogh, Da Vinci and Delacroix to deepen and extend its themes. Avoiding any spoilers is important – suffice to say this is a drama that goes into some tricky places with much to offer a contemporary audience.
Like most productions at the modest Flightpath Theatre In This Light has minimal production values: a simple, neutral production design by Angelina Meany and functional lighting by Grant Fraser and sound by Jeremy Ghali. The production is graced by a capable and strong cast who bring to life all facets of the emotional terrain. Noel Hodda’s play resonates with a love of European culture. Van Gogh’s wheatfields of Auvers Sur Oise - beautifully captured in his painting “Wheat field with Crows” – is a striking and resonant location for a key scene of Act One. By contrast, Hodda captures the Queensland heat, dust, and drought in his Second Act. There is humour, sadness, and a touch of melancholia about this work.
The first act of the play has many short scenes establishing the time frames, character, and story lines. Director Des James denies any potential poetry of the production by some extremely literal staging ie, characters troop on and off the stage between very short scenes in and out of awkward lighting states. The fact that the past and present are interweaving and (possibly) informing the story and themes is completely lost. It was very difficult to grasp what was happening. In an early scene in the art gallery – a public space – brother and sister discuss family concerns while being constantly in motion. The play is served better in the second act where longer scenes play out. But it’s always a dodgy look when an unconscious and bed bound character must enter and exit with own bed clothes for short scenes.
Judging by the almost full house on the afternoon I attended. In This Light is striking a chord amongst local audiences. I appreciated that company producer, Di Smith, was on hand to assist audiences and to remind us that making theatre is a demanding task of self-sacrifice.
We are all the richer for the passion of artists everywhere to continue telling stories, that the few small theatres in Sydney continue to operate and that audiences find delight in these dark communal spaces.
Image Credit: Robert Catto