‘Life after George’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by May 26, 2017

‘Life after George’ is a new captivating drama, written in 2000 by Melbourne born, Hannie Rayson. Initially, she had to supplement her play and screen-writing income with freelance journalism; but, at the peak of her career, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by La Trobe University. Her first foremost success was Hotel Sorrento, which won major awards for both the stage and screenplays.

‘Life after George’ also won Rayson a Helpmann Award for Best Play, and then she became the only playwright ever to be nominated for the Miles Franklin Award.

This moving and insightful play is being presented by the Garrick Theatre Company, at the Garrick Theatre, 16 Meadow Street, in Guildford.

The 2 hour 45 minute performances (in two Acts of equal length) can be seen each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening at 8.00 pm until the 10th June. The Sunday matinées are at 2.00 pm on 28th May and 4th June. Book through Elaine on 9378-1990 or Trybooking at https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=259817 .

 

The action takes place in about a dozen, very different locations, over a thirty-year period.

The set designers, Geoff Holt and Lynne Devenish have placed a baby grand piano, in the auditorium, in front of the stage. With a bench and a couple of chairs placed near the curtain. Most of the stage has been divided into two generic areas, an office and a domestic sitting room. The rear wall is a screen for the high quality, external views of the many venues involved – the houses being in various localities from St Kilda to Italy.

The rooms are painted in slate grey, with the minimum amount of props, no pictures on the walls. Even the symbolic window is the same neutral grey. By looking at the projected picture, it was amazing how one’s brain accepted the numerous changes of location without question. Fred Petersen’s reliable team of Louise Koncsek, Roy Phillips and Mike Alarco, constructed the set.

Even though the cast did not change costume once over the three decades, this too was unnoticed by the audience, as the apparel was perfectly selected to highlight the characteristics of the person wearing it.

The stage manager was Maureen Harvie and Morgan Hyde assisted her.

A great deal of the atmosphere and authenticity came from Geoff Holt’s crisp stereo sound effects and the brilliant, complex, selective lighting plan. The technical operators, Edina Boross, John Forde, Arund Pearce and Fiona Forster were impeccable.

 

       It is the year 2000, and 28 yrs. old trendy Ana (Michelle Dayman) is seated at her grand piano playing and singing (fabulous voice) pieces from Debussy, Bob Dylan and Thunderclap Newman. A slightly unkempt man walks down the theatre aisle and mounts the stage. This is Ana’s father, the brilliant, left wing, card-carrying history lecturer, Professor Peter George (Peter Clark) commonly known as ‘George’.  Although he had the very best of educations at one of England’s top schools, George like to give the impression of being brought up a working class peasant.

      The professor then invites the audience to join him on the chaotic rollercoaster ride of the last thirty years of his life. A deafening crash is heard and then Alan Duffy (Andrew Govey), George’s best friend and GP, steps forward to welcome all of the mourners to George’s funeral.

      There is then a flashback to 1968 in Paris. Initiated by President De Gaulle’s Montreal speech in 1967, the Parisian students are having a revolution against the constitution. Young George has met a gypsy-like, art student, Beatrix (Lis Hoffman). They marry and have two children.

       Now it is 1979. In George’s university office, an ambitious feminist, Lindsay (Kath Jones) – a manipulator who is desperate to further her career – is chasing her PhD supervisor, George. Beatrix is keen to travel and expand her art knowledge, and so, conveniently for both, George divorces Beatrix and marries Lindsay.

       A decade later, middle-aged George is still as flirtatious as ever, managing to win the heart of young Poppy (Anna Head) a student Ana’s age. At last, he has found someone who truly loves and admires him until his tragic death.

       However, as the flashback continues, the relationship between daughter Ana and George’s three wives does not run smoothly.  For some he was a hero, other thought he was a rogue, but who knew of his hidden secrets?

 

Director Lynne Devenish has been so lucky gathering such a first class troupe of actors, although I suspect that in this case, knowing the immense talents of the director, the actors may have ‘selected’ her.

The pace was unrelenting, the demands for numerous emotions – tears, anger, frustration etc. – was sensitively handled. The chemistry between the characters, whether warm and loving or cold and jealous, worked perfectly.  You can see the huge amount of work and dedication that has gone into every aspect of this play by the whole team.

The actors all knew how to ‘work’ the spotlights, walking straight into position centre of the beam. Often an actor will stand in the beam too far back, so their body will be illuminated and their head cut off, and in the dark. As the lighting moved to the next set, the previous scene’s cast would exit silently into the shadows. No jarring breaks to slow the pace. The projection screen often showed the year, but so well written was the script that the audience soon grasped the era for themselves without confusion.

Rayson is renowned for her wonderful characterisation and cleverly written dialogue. This magnificent cast have done her justice. The relationships were real and clear, with a fine blend of bitchiness and admiration. If one were to read a passage of script, immediately the character speaking would be recognised by the richness of the dialogue; the adjectives and phrasing being specific to each person in the play. Good rich personae.

This is a longish play, but it was gripping with the fascinating and inventive storylines being released to the audience in a trickle, Rayson has ensured their full attention throughout.

With a drama like this, at the final curtain there was strong appreciative applause, but with the final scene having been a funeral,  the ‘Whoops’ and cheers normally given seemed inappropriate, and the admiration came with decorum.

A play of the highest quality, superbly presented.