Canberra is, without a doubt, the entertainment capital of Australia. It has travelling picture shows, a lovely lake with a splendid waterspout, and a high court, architecturally modelled on a squash court, where people in period costume debate weighty matters although attendance is meagre as jokes are rare and usually accidental.
Up at the Playhouse, they have finally hit on a winner. The author of the current play has based it on Herodotus’ observation that power is a slippery mistress yet has never lacked lovers to woo her.
Until now performances at the Playhouse have lacked lustre, either because the scripts have been repetitive and unimaginative or the actors have failed to show character. But this play is a beauty and suddenly the actors are pouring their hearts and souls into the performance, although it must be said the male chorus seems lost. Its members mainly sit staring, mouths open, not knowing when to cheer and when to hiss. Not so the female chorus. Its members are lapping it up. They study every move, observe the actors’ slightest foibles then rush out of the theatre to tell all those who couldn’t get seats to view what is going on.
The play itself is a trifle confusing. Although it has a historical basis and lots of drama the audience is having difficulty deciding whether it is a comedy or a tragedy. To add to the confusion many of the actors have forgotten their lines, but they all love being on the stage so they keep talking anyway. This ad-libbing has all but destroyed the structure of the play but it does introduce new themes that get worked over then abandoned.
At times it is difficult to tell who the main character is but it appears to be AGamemnon, a handsome young Lothario who has arrived from the west and races around the stage shouting, “Do as I say, not as I do.“ The high point, so far, of his performance, was a lengthy dialogue with the Prince, a cheerful Machiavellian chap who listens to his wife but still seems unsure why he is on the stage, perhaps something to do with the slippery mistress. In these misogynistic times, the Prince knows it is good for his image to appear to listen to the wife and to talk about compassion while avoiding it. An earlier warrior Prince, who wrote Leprechaun Rising, a glowing autobiography, was of the same view but unexpectedly lost audience support.
The dialogue between AGamemnon and the Prince was supposed to be the crux of the whole play but, unfortunately, they both neglected to take their scripts along so the outcome of the dialogue was obscure. The male chorus didn’t know when to chant but the female chorus inspected the entrails of their conversation, found them full of hidden meanings and rushed out to tell all the people outside what had been said, what could have been said, and what should have been said.
At times the play got so raucous with all the actors going full bore that the Director had to rush onto the stage shouting, “Order! Order! Order!“ But his pleas merely added to the confusion.
Most of the actors are male, although the Talking Potato is a puzzle and the Albino appears to be a poodle in search of its owner or has lost his script, so the playwright hurriedly wrote in a female role. This part went to Electra, who rushed on stage, looking as if she had just stabbed someone offstage, and captured the audience by twittering, “Holy cow!“
This was obviously meant to introduce a femo-multicultural theme, in this case, Hindu, but the female chorus missed this and placed great emphasis on the fact that the cow was, allegedly, lying down. This reference to a lying cow generated so much interest it might be turned into a separate play for those highly paid actors in period costume.
Some critics argue that as well as lacking structure, the play is too focused on the actors’ lives – that while it entertains people in the capital it has little relevance for a wider audience. Others claim the play’s chaotic nature accurately reflects people‘s lives and is but a gentle satire.
Still, others claim to have detected a Wagnerian element, that AGamemnon is Siegfried, the Prince is the Wanderer, Electra is Brunnhilde, the Albino is Mime the frustrated dwarf, and that the entire cast and the Playhouse will be consumed in a roaring crescendo of flame, with only the female chorus surviving to pick through the ashes, eventually to tell the tale to their uncomprehending grandchildren.