‘Clinchfield’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by June 22, 2017

‘Clinchfield’ is a harrowing tale, but richly and cleverly written by Australian playwright, 39 yrs. old Caleb Lewis. Lewis studied at the Flinders University Drama Centre, and then had a mentorship with Nick Enright before winning a two-week workshop with playwright Edward Albee.

‘Clinchfield’ won the inaugural Richard Burton Award for new plays. Lewis then went on to win the inaugural Australian Writers’ Guild Media Awgie. Being a man of principles, and in protest, he turned down a high-status, Philip Parsons Award.

This production, with several strong adult themes, was presented by The Actors’ Hub at the Don Russell Theatre, Murdoch Road, Thornlie. The two-hour shows were each night at 7.00, until Saturday 17th June.

 

The scene is 11th September 1916 in the town of Kingsport, Tennessee.

Adam Mitchell and Jamie Davies’ set design is like a circus ring. There is a circular pine dais with chairs around the periphery. At the rear are red velvet curtains draped in an arch.

 

      As Rob Johnson’s Blues number comes to a close, a young man (Glenn Wallis) leaps into the ring, flourishing a photo of an elephant hanging from a chain. Despite protests and suggestions that the photo is a fake, he insists that it is true and starts to tell us the story. A young boy (Bryce Fenwick) wielding an imaginary gun stalks across the stage.

      An out of work hotel worker, Red Eldridge had found a job as an assistant elephant trainer with the World Famous Sparks’ Circus. Days later, during a circus pageant through the town, one of his Indian elephants, Mary, went feral, trampling a bystander to death.

      The racist townsfolk seem to enjoy pursuing vengeance, after having lynched a black youth, Luke, the previous year. So why not lynch the elephant? Luke’s wife (Ashana Murphy) gave us her heartbreaking story. After all, it is a killer. It is not long before Chinese whispers are going around about the situation, and mob rule takes over.

      Red’s widow (Sophia Gilet) pleads for clemency, but the local fortune-teller (Lauren Thomas) has the ecstatic locals charged up and ready for a spectacle. The circus owner and master of ceremonies (Matthew Parkin) realises that he will be losing an elephant, but there is a huge opportunity to make lot of money from the horrendous situation.

      Will common sense prevail?

     Justin Gray, Tyler Lindsay-Smith, Kyle Kash, Quintus Olsthoorn, Chris Colley, Carlin Monteiro, Makayla Deacon, Adam Droppert played many of the equally important remaining parts with gusto.

 

From his first major performing award at the Edinburgh Festival, Director Adam Mitchell has gone on to become an award-winning theatre director, with connections to the Black Swan State Theatre Company, WAAPA’s musical production classes, the Sydney and Melbourne Theatre Companies, and he is a member of the Lincoln Centre Theater’s Directors’ Lab in New York.

In WA, Adam is recognised for his fresh and inventive theatre productions, which have earned him numerous best direction and best production awards, including prestigious Equity Guild Awards. Adam is now accustomed to directing major productions, but it is obvious that he has demanded the same professional standards from this amateur group of youngsters – and they met his standards.

The costumes (Joyce Gilbert) were excellent and accurate for the period of the play.

This play is a little like its content, it takes no prisoners. It demands slick, snappy dialogue. Often the cast had to heckle a few words. Individually and in rapid succession, the mob would shout a series of brief phrases. This type of delivery is often doomed to failure, it only takes one person to miss their cue or to stammer, and the whole dramatic effect can be lost. This cast were fired up, threatening and had perfect timing.

The play has a fantastic array of intense characters, living their strange lives in their own interbred community. Each cast member had at least a couple of parts to play. So well written and presented were the parts for these individuals, that even with a short piece of dialogue one could read their personalities instantly. Occasionally, the dialogue being spoken described what was being enacted, this seemed a little strange.

This was an unrelenting production with virtually no light relief, so one felt a bit drained at the end of the play, but it was superbly produced and most memorable. Congratulations to all concerned.