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Colder by Lachlan Philpott - Red Stitch



Colder
Photo: Teresa Noble

I’m there.

I’m sitting there in the dark.

Sitting there in the dark watching a play by Lachlan Philpott at Red Stitch.

A child has gone missing at Disneyland but nothing evokes Disneyland for me, not even the actors wearing mouse ears. Especially not the actors wearing mouse ears and affecting exaggerated American accents. I want to feel what the mother is feeling, while officious behind-the-scenes Disney workers assure her everything is going to be fine.

I want a sense of her being frantic and frustrated.

But I don’t get this sense because the language of the play is putting me at a distance. The expository monologues don’t paint a picture or flesh out a world beyond the very basic (“padded concrete, padded seats”) and the facile (“padded people”).

This choral arrangement of voices is not singing.

Eight-year-old David remains missing all day and we learn that his single mother has felt separate from him ever since. We aren’t given much of a hint of why. David, now 33, has come out as gay but has hidden his relationships from his mother and his best friend. But is that a symptom of the distance or the reason behind it?

What happened to him at Disneyland? Colder wants you to ask that question but resists answers and insight. When the character says that nobody really knows anybody else, I was disappointed the played turned on such a cliché.

The design elements of the production – both the set and lighting – elevate the material. The curved slats of the set, which resemble a wave about to crash on the characters, keep the actors on their toes for the entire performance. The lighting helps with changing moods, even as the characters are scattered across space and time, rarely, if ever, connecting with each other.

Early on, I wondered if Philpott had ever been to Disneyland. Then David, his sex partners and his boyfriend describe Sydney like they’d overheard someone talk of Potts Point, Surrey Hills and Oxford Street. Strange for a writer who is from there. 

When the parades of Disneyland and Mardi Gras are used as a recurring theme in David’s life, the play lost me. If it had ever had me.

I was there.

I was sitting in the dark.

Sitting in the dark, waiting for it to be over.

Left cold.

Comments

Keith, I don't know you as a reviewer and I am so sorry it was such a terrible episode to endure for you; that hour and a half in the theatre puzzling over and then giving up on my cliche ridden work. It's a shame it isn't easier to make an exit at Red Stitch.

You did your homework. I do live in Sydney and I know it well. Given that, I want to say that in Sydney reviewers are on the whole very supportive of the community that they are part of, not blindly supportive of course, but they certainly can look beyond themselves when offering insight or critique. or to contextualise a work. We have a wide range of voices evolving in our reviewing community. I love Suzy Wrong, for example. who offers smart insight from the perspective of an Asian-Australian transgender person.

I hate the whole Melb/ Syd tension and I don't want to feed into it. I always look to Melbourne for inspiration on stage and so often find it. There is such a deep pool of amazing talent here. It is glorious. But I have been puzzling a little over what role some reviewers see themselves having here in Melbourne's ecology.

In the case of this review, I got that you didn't like it and I'm glad to know that. But I want to suggest that in your role as a reviewer you might be able to consider offering a little bit more. I think most artists would love something meaty to think about other than the cliche of the reviewer sitting sad and frustrated in the dark.

Alison Croggon said…
Lachlan, what a weird comment. You don’t want to feed into the “whole Syd/Mel tension” and yet you respond to one review by...feeding into it. No, this review is not a symptom of Melbourne/Sydney “tension”, whatever the hell that is. It’s Keith’s response, which pays you the respect of being honest and, more importantly, tells you why he responded the way he did. You are, as with all critique, free to take issue with it: but Keith is equally free to respond how he likes. He’s a playwright with a passion for theatre, and he’s a stalwart of Melbourne theatre. He PAYS for his tickets and turns up and then he cares enough to write about what he saw. And he’s done it for years. If that isn’t being supportive, I don’t know what is.
Tara Calaby said…
Lachlan, I say this as a fellow writer: nothing good can ever come of responding to reviews, especially in such a negative fashion. I get it--it hurts when someone doesn't love the thing you put so much of yourself into. But you need to learn to deal with that hurt in a way that doesn't alienate your audience, because that is exactly what you're doing here. This is the kind of response that will get your work black-listed by reviewers, and memories in this industry are very very good.

It's also important to realise that reviews are not for the author. They're for your prospective audience. You say in your comment that Keith should have offered you a bit more, as though his duty is to you. It isn't. If you want that kind of feedback, you need to pay a script editor to provide it. Keith's duty as a reviewer is to give his honest opinion. No more. YOUR duty as a creative is to create things you care about and to treat other people in the industry with respect. You're halfway there. Try taking the extra step.
Thanks Tara for the advice.


I am not sure that me commenting on a post is really going to result in alienating me from my audience. I also care as much for the rights of writers and artists to respond to critics in these contexts. Isn't this what these reply buttons are for? I have a hope that these conversations can be a chance for us to exchange ideas and increase understanding, not just chastise those who have different opinions. We are all people who are part of a small community. You may be right and it may be a waste of energy and while I do appreciate your concern, I reserve my right to take part in this however weird Alison might find it.

To be more specific about this review, yes I obviously found it deeply offensive and you are correct, of course I respond in part from pain. This is a piece that is deeply connected to personal loss and to read an
unfavorable or insensitive response to it is always going to hurt. The people on the stage articulate the endless pain of ambiguous loss and the reviewer responds with a yawn and not much else. Not everyone will think that is clever either. I don't and I wanted to let Keith know that.

But as I said, I fully accept that Keith didn't like the work. It's his place to respond how he likes and I celebrate that. What caused me to write a response to the review in the first place is concern at Keith's failure to acknowledge the director Alyson Campbell or the other mostly female creative team who made the work. I had a look through his other reviews and it seems pretty standard for him to credit directors and artists. In the context of this review he's omitted these people but mentions himself at least eight times. This seems anything but respectful and it raised a whole lot of questions for me that I chose to try and ask.

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