(image courtesy of WWLT website – please click to view full size)
The scene is a smart hotel room. A large window over the bed reveals the bright lights and familiar skyline of New York City. Fifties music plays while an obscure figure lies on the bed reading from a sheaf of papers: a file or document of some sort, possibly an academic paper, perhaps a script. The figure rises to a seated position and is . . . instantly recognisable. So begins Woy Woy Little Theatre’s production of Terry Johnson’s Insignificance, capturing the audience’s attention from the first moment and holding it enthralled until the final shocking scene.
Johnson is a multi award winning British dramatist working in television and film as well as live theatre and, in 1995, he received the Olivier Award for “Playwright of the Year”. When Insignificance opened at the Royal Court Theatre in 1982, it earned him the Plays & Players Award for “Best Play”, and the Evening Standard’s Award for “Most Promising Playwright”. In 1985 the movie version – starring Michael Emil, Theresa Russell, Tony Curtis, and Gary Busey – was nominated for the “Palme d’Or” at the Cannes Film Festival.*
The intriguing premise of his play proposes a possible meeting in a New York hotel room in 1954 between a professor, a senator, an actress and a ball player, each of whom respectively resembles Albert Einstein, Joseph McCarthy, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio. The plot follows the social and sexual politics of their interactions through political coercion, personal insecurity, marital strife and moral dilemma. In the process these four very diverse characters become a microcosm through which the play explores both the nature of reality, and human nature in all its fallibility and vulnerability and in its potential darkness. The dialogue is intelligent and full of sharply observed humour, but gradually increasing in tension to produce powerful, thought provoking and sometimes confronting drama – all while giving the audience a working understanding of solipsism and the Special Theory of Relativity!
Director Gavin Critchley was involved in the first Australian production of Insignificance in the 80s while working as a professional sound operator and designer at the Sydney Opera House. “I was fascinated by its concepts,” he says. “I loved how it said so much about who we are by showing us a different side to people we thought we knew.” The play plainly made a deep impression on him and it shows in the care and attention he has given to this production. He has cast four outstanding actors: well known Central Coast actor, and Woy Woy regular, Paul Russell is the professor while the versatile Adam Young plays the ball player. Andrew Thomson (the senator) and Genevieve Neve (the actress) debut for WWLT but are very familiar to WDG and GMS audiences respectively. The first three of these I know well, and know what they’re capable of, but they still managed to impress me in these roles. Genevieve I was seeing for the firs time but very much hope to see more of in future. All four have clearly researched their roles thoroughly, convincingly recreating the cultural icons they represent while turning in memorable dramatic performances.
The same care has been devoted to all aspects of the production: make-up, hair and costuming make an important contribution to realizing the characters; the subtle and elegant stage design and furnishing help set the scene, and the artwork and lighting of the New York exterior is especially convincing; mood lighting and sound effects help to sustain atmosphere and create dramatic moments. All together they create an entertaining and thought provoking theatrical experience not to be missed.
Insignificance closes this weekend so, if you haven’t seen this play already, I recommend you book now to avoid missing out. Tickets are available online at http://www.woywoylt.com.au/ or call 4344 4737.
* Biographical information courtesy of wikipedia.