Katherine Mansfield House and Garden, 25 Tinakori Rd, Thorndon, Wellington

23/02/2016 - 26/02/2016

NZ Fringe Festival 2016 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

What happens behind the door of a psychologist’s office? Who is in there? Could it be you? Your best mate? Does I      t resemble the dramatisations of Freud, Jung and Lecter? Or is it more tangible?

Alan, your regular Kiwi bloke, is court ordered to see a psychologist after a number of concerning incidents involving alcohol. Conversations with my Counsellor explores what happens when Alan is thrust into the world of his thoughts, feelings and emotions, a world he has written off as the domain of intellectuals and people who can’t cope with life. 

Will Alan get anything out of these sessions, or is he merely fulfilling a legal requirement? 

Written and directed by Ian Harris, Conversations with my Counsellor will be performed in the intimate space at Katherine Mansfield House and Garden. Seats are extremely limited, so book early.

Katherine Mansfield House and Garden, 25 Tinakori Rd, Thorndon, Wellington
7pm, Feb 23-26 (60 min)

Theatre ,

More ‘outside eyes’ might help

Review by John Smythe 24th Feb 2016

The small drawing room at Katherine Mansfield House is indeed intimate. We, the necessarily small audience, are to be privy to a psychoanalytical counselling session in this hallowed space. Indeed the chatty psychiatrist, John Hoskins (played by playwright and director Ian Harris) asks if anyone is in need … Except he does have a patient waiting – and the first hint there may be something untoward about him is the glee with which he chooses to keep him waiting. Or is that little power trip standard practice?

Having had our presence acknowledged and engaged in a bit of chat, we are instructed not to interact in any way with the patient. The proverbial fourth wall goes up as Mike Grey (Josh Holland) comes in. A housekeeping note here: with the two actors mostly seated at a desk or lying on a chaise lounge, packing the audience in tight rows at one end is not ideal. A traverse set-up would be better, giving us fewer heads to see over and offering the benefit of a ‘live backdrop’.

Grey, a Sales Relationship Manager, is here because of a major stuff up with a client that may or may not have involved alcohol. Oddly, exactly what happened to put his job in jeopardy is never revealed. In a normal counselling session, I imagine the patient’s version of the event and how he ascribes cause and blame would form the foundation for the subsequent analysis and treatment.  

But Hoskins, who specialises in alcoholism and substance abuse, freely admits he uses unconventional methods which, although not clinically proven, will – he claims – produce a must faster result. So having enjoyed keeping his patient waiting, he is now prepared to break ranks with the populist view of his profession and avoid booking him in as a long term income stream. Or is it that the playwright wants to make progress faster that ‘normal practice’ would allow?

It does emerge that Grey drinks a lot and that his personal perception of his resulting behaviour differs greatly from that of his friends – whose observations are magically manifest within the counselling sessions. When Grey challenges Hoskins on the strangeness of this, subconscious projection is offered by way of explanation but we don’t buy it – and nor, in the end, does Grey.

Other props and strategies are also brought into play to avoid Conversations with my Counsellor being all talk and little physical action. That all this occurs at the expense of credibility would not matter if the play emerged as an absurdist exaggeration of psychoanalytical practice, or the means by which someone in Grey’s real world attempts to exact revenge or simply tries to wake the miscreant up to himself.

I am left musing on the playwright’s purpose in creating this work and guess his starting point was to explore and critique alcohol abuse among his peers, which of course is laudable. I appreciate an oblique approach should be more effective, dramatically, than anything too literal or ‘on the nose’. But having chosen a counselling session as his vehicle, using ‘unconventional methods’ to excuse the introduction of the aforementioned devices doesn’t do it for me.

Both performances range from being ‘in the zone’ of their make-believe and hitting false notes. Something mentioned at the end does suggest they lost their way at some point in this premiere performance but given its overall nature it’s hard to know how to read that.

Coming back to acknowledging the audience presence does ‘bookend’ the production aesthetically but deconstructing play-making doesn’t solve the dramaturgical problems. If the unifying theme as dramatic conflict is control v loss of control, this needs to be dynamically present in both the counselling session and the back story. That way we’d engage at a far more interesting – and interested – level.

The elements of a good play are there. Perhaps a couple more ‘outside eyes’ – dramaturgical and directorial – would help. 


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