09/10/2012 - 13/10/2012
“Make Voyages! – Attempt them! – there’s nothing else”
On the Camino Real – an unspecified mysterious port, birds are captured, tamed and kept in cages. Desperate to take flight, the inhabitants are an array of lost souls that have no choice but to indulge in false fortunes and fiestas. Retired boxer, Kilroy, kindles the spirits of the people, while venturing on his own fight to resist the constraints of the town’s walls and maintain his dignity.
Directed by Lori Leigh, Victoria University’s Theatre 303 takes one of Williams’ most innovative play through a carnival of temptation, desperation and dream-like exaggeration.
Studio 77, 77 Fairlie Terrace, Kelburn
Tuesday 9th – Saturday 13th October 2012
$8/15 – unwaged/waged
Book online at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 04 463 5359
Andra Leigh Gamby
Challenging and provocative work
Review by Helen Sims 10th Oct 2012
Camino Real, Spanish for “Royal Road” is the name of a sleazy, sleepy and sinister town with one way in and one way out. It also represents Tennessee Williams’ vision of modern life.
The fountain in the middle of the Plaza is dry; as one character says, the spring of humanity has dried up in this place. Beyond lies the Terra Incognita – a vast desert with mountains in the distance. Options for escape are limited, and seem only available when an inhabitant has given up all romantic dreams.
The Camino Real is inhabited by ‘real’ characters and famous fictional characters (Don Quixote, Lord Byron, Esmeralda, Marguerite Gautier and Casanova). The play begins with Quixote being abandoned by his squire Sancho Panza at the town gates.
Most of the cast play a number of roles and on the whole characterisation between roles is sharp. Standouts are David Lancaster as Kilroy and Anna Neyland as the ageing Casanova.
The play takes place mainly in the Plaza, which is presided over by the mysterious character of Gutman, proprietor of the hotel Siete Mares, and his armed thugs. Gutman provides narration and announces each of the 16 ‘blocks’ of the play. The frontage of a pawn shop, the men only Hotel Ritz and the home of the Gypsy (to whom all serious questions are referred) are also seen around the periphery of the plaza. The set is excellently designed by Maryse Ridler ans Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki.
Subtle updating means it is scarcely believable that this play was written in 1953 – the themes, the anxiety are completely recognisable now. Gallants are shot down in the street; the masses are pacified by cheap tricks and everything has a price. Into this town comes an American, Kilroy, whose heart is too big. He is singled out both by Gutman and the Gypsy’s daughter, Esmeralda. Their attentions push his romantic ideals to their breaking point.
Music is one of the key modernising devices and a real highlight of the show. All members of the cast sing, including the opening number, an adapted version of Hotel California. A number of the cast also play the guitar to accompany the scenes.
This is an ambitious play for inexperienced actors to tackle. It’s an extremely dense play in language, themes and narrative and also very free form. The ambitious experiment doesn’t quite come off at points – the actors occasionally struggle with the dense poetry of the script, especially when they have accents to grapple with as well. At times they don’t reach the depth of emotion the script entails and it comes off as inauthentic melodrama. However, the cast uniformly put in energetic performances, by turns dancing, singing and acting out the bizarre pageant that is life on/in Camino Real.
Director Lori Leigh makes some odd directorial choices and at times it felt like the entire directorial toolbox was being thrown at the production. A little more care needed to be taken to tell the ‘story’ and convey sense within each of the 16 blocks more clearly.
The play requires a delicate balance between the poetic despair of many of the central characters and the chaotic, macabre pageantry of the town, and latter often overwhelms the former. Having Marguerite Gautier or Kilroy lurch around the stage as they deliver heart-rending monologues detracts from their despair. Having Gutman continuously speaking through a microphone is distracting.
Despite describing the play as a “grotesque comedy” in the Director’s note, the moments of comedy on opening night were few and far between. Some scenes could have used a lighter hand, so as to throw the darker scenes into sharper relief.
Despite the energetic efforts of the cast, the first half felt a little stop-start and occasionally suffered from a lack of pace. I felt like 20 minutes could easily be shaved off the first half. By contrast the second half feels more seamless and speedy, and builds towards something of a climax, offering a nightmarish vision of a future in which love and hope are dead.
At two and half hours in total the play is too long. A quick survey of other productions online indicated the play is usually performed in less than two hours.
I wondered if there was a little more depth to be plumbed out of some of the themes which are particularly pertinent to present times, such as the lust for money and the possibilities for freedom and entrapment it presents, considering the state of the Spanish economy in particular. However, Leigh seems to have elected to keep Camino Real relatively unspecific as to place and time.
Ultimately, I felt like I was prevented from full immersion into all the facets of the ‘world’ of Camino Real. The “dissolving and transforming images of a dream”, as Williams described his play, could have benefited from a more seamless dreamlike feel.
However, it’s a challenging and provocative work for an undergraduate theatre class to tackle, and a treat to see a rarely performed work staged with a large cast.
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