Friday, July 29, 2016

July 29. Day 211. In need of a strong black coffee

June Balfour as Mrs Bennet. June's other characters include Mrs Bennet's daughter and the story's protagonist Elizabeth

Peter Crees as Mr William Collin. Peter's roles also includes Mr Darcy
Nigel Munro-Wallis with leading lady June Balfour
I think it is time to admit that I am a failure. Exhibit A. I may be very well educated in the formal sense of the word but I am clearly exceptionally poorly read. So far this year I have had to 'fess up to never having read Wuthering Heights, Sense and Sensibility and now Pride and Prejudice. Woeful. Exhibit B. I call myself a journalist and/or an academic and I don't drink coffee. Ever. This is in clear violation of the codes of conduct of both professions. I do however know that true coffee drinkers like their coffee black and without the frills of half strength decaf, soy or mocha. Black coffee is stripped back to its essentials with just a flavour burst in one big hit. It is this that new Brisbane theatrical company Black Coffee Theatre aims to deliver - theatre with punch but without the trimmings. If the first production Darcy and Eliza is anything to go by it is a flavour that hits the spot. This is the second play in the "Austen Seven" series which Brisbane actor, director  and playwright Nigel Munro-Wallis hopes to eventually bring to the stage (Northhanger Abbey is already in the bag having been staged in 2013 so only five to go). Starting from the blissfully ignorant position of not having read the novel is good and bad. It means I am an abject failure at discussing whether this faithfully captured the essence of Jane Austen's original. However, it does allow me to consider the production without any baggage of expectation, or indeed prejudice if you like, as a piece of theatre in its own right. And I loved it. This is such a fine character driven-piece which could only be have been pulled off with a tight and lively script and a powerful and versatile cast. Munro-Wallis worked the cast hard and they rose to the challenge. He has just three to play all the roles which demanded supreme script editing and that every one of the actors commanded the stage. It's not at though they had an elaborate set to rely on - just two chairs, a table and a hat stand (plus a grand piano courtesy of the fact that the 4MBS studio space has been chosen as the venue.) Through imagination and a huge degree of coordination and planning, the cast pulls small costume pieces from a hat stand, wicker basket or the piano and transform themselves into the myriad of characters to tell this story. All credit to them. If I have one criticism, and hands up this is again from my position of ignorance, I'm not sure about the title of the work. Pride and Prejudice gives away less of the ending than Darcy and Eliza but as probably just about everyone has read the book perhaps it doesn't matter.
I feel sure Monro-Wallis, who took a year translating this work for the stage, took that into consideration, given every other aspect seems to have been very carefully thought out. Which brings me to Failure Exhibit 3. In a former life, Munro-Wallis was 612 ABC Brisbane's performing arts reviewer, a job I now hold. My chance of ever pulling off a work of this nature, indeed ever attempting it, is zero.
Darcy and Eliza is playing at the 4MBS studios at Coorparoo until August 6 at 8pm. Book through 4MBS Ticketing on 3847 1717 or  at 4mbs.com.au
John Ashton as Lady Catherine de Bourgh. John is also Mr Bennet, among other characters

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