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Auckland Fringe 09
Slow Train
Written and performed by Jonathan Hodge
Directed by Ben Van Lier
Catalyst Theatre

at The Basement, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland
From 19 Mar 2009 to 21 Mar 2009
[55 mins]

Reviewed by Nik Smythe, 20 Mar 2009

Jonathan Hodge is Max, a lone guitar-toting trench coat-wearing minstrel with a bristly face and inevitable aspirations to Dylan, keeping on keeping on down the road.  We meet him on a freezing night in a remote pass where he's been caught in a blizzard and taken refuge in a rustic hut. 

He manages to get a fire going and heats up a tin of spaghetti, all the while muttering about the cold, taking sculls of whiskey and expounding his philosophies as though there's some sort of theatre audience watching.

Max's demeanor is serious, despondent at times, with the trademark cynicism of a broken-hearted romantic.  It's clear he has a chip on his shoulder.  He talks much more of the conflicts and mistakes of his past than the fun times.  Even when recounting the odd adventure it seems laced with a kind of fatalistic doom. 

Directed by Ben Van Lier, Hodge's acting is a mix of natural and demonstrative; a solitary soul who really seems more at ease in his own company in the middle of nowhere than even ours, his 'imaginary' audience.  (Existential conundrum anyone?)  On opening night he fell a bit short of truly inhabiting the character, so that we weren't as fully drawn in as we might have been.

There's an odd contradiction to this Max fellow - principally uncompromising, but regretful and apologetic (to the point of apologising to the ladies for the way he looked at a certain girl he met and describing her as 'hot').  In fact, his wry approach to the fairer sex is sardonic, bordering on misogyny. 

At the point he's reached in the play, his closest relationships with women - and Johnny, his soul-brother on the road whose parables he recalls with veneration - are all past history.  But the full extent of Max's responsibility, or rather avoidance of it, and the resulting cognitive dissonance, is revealed at the end of 50 minutes of indulgent self-reflection.

Max/Hodge's three original songs are mini tributes to key moments in his life story.  A few lengths shy of Max's deluded aspiration to Dylan, the earnest profundity of his lyrics and the simple country-folk-blues match the sombre tone of the piece, pleasant enough but lacking real teeth. 

Hodge's first foray into the ambitious and confronting world of solo theatre has real potential for development.  There's plenty to relate to and with greater cohesion, more humour, and songs worthier of the life that has written them, Max's lonely story could be one we really want to hear. 
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