Friday, June 20, 2008

2,000 Feet Away At The Bush Theatre

The show was set to start at 8pm. Twenty minutes later and we were still waiting, in a queue that snaked down the Bush Theatre stairs, swelled to fill the narrow lobby area and then trailed out of the door and in to the street. Apparently – I later learned – this was due to a leaking roof, but if any announcement was made at the time, it wasn't a very loud one. And there was me, having long since necked my gin, getting repeatedly poked in the back by an Australian woman with very pointy elbows.

OK, I appreciate that the mid-performance electrocution of lighting technicians is a thing one would probably want to avoid, but an apology wouldn't have gone amiss. So, it goes without saying that, after being brusquely prodded into our seats for the now sold-out 2,000 Feet Away, our mood – myself and, I’m guessing, Andrew’s too – was not the best. Oh, and then there was the play – I had almost forgotten about that.

2,000 Feet Away takes its inspiration from a piece of American legislation that states that sex offenders cannot live anywhere close to where children might gather. This includes playgrounds, parks and schools. In the small town of Eldon, the timid deputy, a placid man who has been known to rescue half dead animals from the side of the road, is charged with evicting these men from their homes and moving them on, in order to keep the town ‘safe’. The question the play asks is, once you move them on, where do you put them? There is no easy answer, of course there isn't; and in the end the deputy comes to see himself as a kind of cursed pied piper figure, destined to keep leading these men away from his home town.

The dialogue in Anthony Weigh’s debut play has a certain rhythmic quality that is, at times, almost Mamet-like (though the repetitious nature of some of it did get on my nerves). What pleased me most was the sense of ambiguity and the way the play frequently shifted gears; first it made you sympathise with these men, before flipping things over and reminding you of exactly what they had done and what they were capable of doing again. One of these sex offenders, holed up in a grotty motel on the outskirts of town, still received perfumed letters in the mail, sexual contracts scrawled on flattened cigarette packets.

Anyway I am writing this at a late hour and I have written more coherently about the play over here. I will just add that though he may loathe theatre, Ian Hart appears to have put his dislike aside for the duration of this production, as his performance, pale and hesitant, was incredibly compelling. And the man can dry heave like nobody’s business. Being very unfond of anything vomit-related, I suddenly developed an intense interest in the contents of my handbag during this bit of the play.

There was also an amazingly confident performance from a young girl called Miranda Princi, who was quite astonishingly good as the strangely semi-sexualised pre-teenager whose fascination with these exiled men is such that she keeps their photocopied mug-shots on her bedroom wall. The scene between her and Joseph Fiennes’ deputy was incredibly tense and unsettling.

The play itself contains as many strengths as it has weaknesses. There is one wonderful moment when Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic is brought strikingly to life. But at other times you feel that Weigh has lighted on this subject matter without actually having anything much new to say about it, that he is striving and failing to create some kind of modern day fable. But this all pales besides my main problem with the piece: the casting of Joseph Fiennes. His isn't a bad performance, but never for a second did I buy him as this schlubby man, slow of thought, who is always munching on something or other (burgers, pancakes, cookies). Despite the ink-stained fingers, he just didn’t feel right in this role, physically – the script paints him as a big guy in need of a diet – or otherwise. This has less to do with his skill as an actor than with his total miscasting, and his presence actually became something of a barrier in the end. I’m sure I had some more thoughts about this, but as I said, the hour is late and my bed beckons.

No comments: