Any object can swell to sacred proportions. It all comes down to how it’s framed, or how it’s freighted.
In the same way, any object can be like a Chekhov’s gun, too. Full of portent.
Such are several sides to the idea that motivates Hilary Bell’s modestly brilliant and brief play. Presented by Griffin Theatre Company in association with the exhibition Happy objects at the Australian Design Centre, this 30-minute one-hander starring Lucia Mastrantone toys with the deeply personal value that we imbue specific material items, and the mythology that surrounds these attachments.
Everyone has at least one such item their psyche clings to in quiet worship.
For me, it’s a faded, second-hand copy of The Phantom Tollbooth that I found in my first home around the age of seven. I love it because it seems to contain the moment when my child self began to realise the radical, subversive, infinitely abundant playfulness that literature can animate within me. Everything about this book (and this one only, not any other copy) – the yellowed pages, the compactness of the volume, the way its edges have worn soft – has absorbed this symbolism and speaks it back to me every time I look at it or hold it. (I haven’t actually read it in perhaps a decade.)
What is your treasured or ‘happy’ object? The one with the value nobody else can ever truly get? The one that exists completely outside of capitalist metrics of worth because your heart has placed it there? It is more than its function, more than its dollar value, more than any one or the sum of its parts.
Yet at the same time – and Bell’s play deftly posits this through a simple story set in 1984, in famous playwright Harold Pinter’s home – attachments are more about the human than the thing itself. It is we who cast upon ourselves the spell to give an object its totemic power. In this sense the relation to the symbolic object, and the meaning or memory that is suspended in this relation, can outlast the object itself.
While slightly discomforting at first – no stage but a level floor, separate chairs pulled out for the occasion, the full-length windows to the outside street creating a fishbowl effect – a gallery was the perfect setting for this idea to take shape. In this culturally rarefied space, the properties of any object on display becomes super-inflated with assumed value and meaning.
Even the seemingly silliest gewgaw (one object on display, a ‘cursed’ ceramic dog with a gormless expression owned by Griffin Theatre’s Artistic Director Declan Greene) is something to pause at, consider, appraise an authentic and materially contained truth. To manhandle it? Inconceivable.
So, when – after some clever misdirection – the coup de grace moment of the play occurs, it shatters in more ways than one.
What truly lifted Window, Cricket Bat however was Mastrantone and her direction under Jennifer Rani.
With a dazzling confidence that soon makes you oblivious to the slightly echoey room, Mastrantone bundles you up and takes you in one sprightly leap back to 1984, where two Down Under backpackers are pushing their luck to legendary heights one summer at Pinter’s mansion home.
Keeping your attention faultlessly at pace with her monologue, she flits effortlessly between at least four characters (and don’t we love that virtuosity after Eryn Jean Norvill in STC’s Dorian Gray?). To remind us of other smashable things in our rigid conceits, Bell’s script also has Mastrantone at times breaking the fourth wall, in a way that is loose, natural, and daring.
Thus having swept us along so nimbly, when a little audience interaction occurs in the performance, you don’t even think to shrink back or warningly scowl. I, for one, was given Vodka Cruiser and a line to say. It was the kind of participation that made me feel blushingly joyful to co-create one tiny section of living art, rather than be a stooge to it.
I couldn’t keep the Vodka Cruiser (I mean, it’s a prop). When I held it, though, some magical transference happened, such that if I should ever have another (unlikely, to be honest) I will think of its cousin, which I never drank at a certain garden party that did and didn’t take place in Darlinghurst during a pandemic and in London during the eighties.
Window, Cricket Bat makes for the first Griffin and Australian Design Centre collaboration.
While it sets itself limited constraints, it is no less effective for it. As a whole, the site-specific production is originally observed, neatly timed and winsomely surprising.
Running until 21 January, arrive early for a welcome drink and to explore the ‘happy objects’ –Alex’s dancing shoes, Janne’s laundry bag, Rex’s axe – loaned by the ‘Object Keepers’ on display.