Michael Gow’s play about a disaffected theatre director – first seen at Belvoir in 2014 – feels very at home at the New.
It’s not hard to imagine his central character, Will Drummond, being a regular at this historically left-leaning, Bertolt Brecht-embracing venue. There can’t be many other venues in town in which the singing of The Internationale gets an instant whoop of approval.
We meet Drummond at a personal and professional low point. He’s broke, lonely and his career is waning. Moreover, his stroke-incapacitated father has recently died and his doting mother, Jeannie, is seriously ill.
The final straw comes with the offer of a gig, a one-off teaching job serving up Brecht to the Year 11 drama students of a well-heeled school. The money will be good, he’s told.
“Brecht was a Marxist,” fumes Drummond. “That was his theory. You teach in a private Church school. How would that go down?”
He’s told not to worry. After all, class war is a thing of the past. Marxism is dead.
Exasperated and depressed, Drummond flees the city for Byron Bay. It’s Christmas and it’s 39C.
Staged in a prop store-cum-rehearsal space (a Victor Kalka design), this Patrick Howard-directed production deploys Drummond’s beloved Brechtian techniques very effectively. Interventions and visible backstage business make us constantly aware of the artificiality of the event we are witnessing, while Gow stealthily challenges the popular idea of Brecht’s “alienation effect” as something designed to inhibit emotional engagement.
Howard’s production doesn’t tap the underlying anger in Gow’s script, and as a result, Once in Royal David’s City seems more sentimental than it is. That aside, his fluent staging and witty use of the acting ensemble is engaging and the play’s depiction of a man coming to terms with death is made touching.
Francisco Lopez is too young to play Gow’s middle-aged Drummond but we quickly warm to him and his performance will grow in the necessary confidence as the season unfolds.
Alice Livingstone is very good as the depleted Jeannie. Martin Portus is spot-on as Wally, the genial god-botherer who seems to have free reign to stalk the hospital Jeannie is admitted into. There’s good work also from Sandra Campbell as Jeannie’s sister, Nicholas Foustellis (Andrei, a doctor), Amy Victoria Brooks (a hospital visitor) and Bryden White-Tuohey, who rolls in to play the sweaty young skateboarder who catches Drummond’s roving eye.
Well worth catching if you’ve never seen this excellent play before. Well worth seeing again if you have.