Last Postcard from Cuba

Arc Cafe, High Street, Dunedin

27/03/2009 - 28/03/2009

Dunedin Fringe 2006-9

Production Details

Last Postcard from Cuba a rich recipe of the theatrical, musical, poetic and photographic to produce a dish aimed at touching heart and mind.

The play, written and directed by Ian Loughran is set in Cuba in 1960 and focuses on the Author Ernest Hemingway who had owned an estate there for over 20 years. Hemingway had written one of his most well known novels ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ in Cuba and he was a personal friend of Fidel Castro who’s revolution had recently transformed Cuba. As an author Hemingway was both commercially and critically successful and was both a Pulitzer and Nobel prize winner.  However by the plays 1960 setting things were starting to unravel for Hemingway.

Personal traumas, severe injuries, illness and alcoholism had left him a severe manic depressive. Electro-shock treatment had left him with memory loss which affected his ability to work. He was suicidal.

The voice in this play is the Hemmingway of 1960 and we look inside the dark world of depression and suicide and feel his struggle to continue writing to the standards he had set himself. Dark themes are however tempered by flashes of the type of humour and stoicism often seen in Hemingway’s own writings. In this way we also get some relief from the heavy themes of the play. In this the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution the performance also gives us a flavour of Cuba from the eyes of a long term ex-pat resident and friend to the revolutionary leaders.

The play uses mixed media and we get impressions of the themes and setting through photographic projections. Popular music from ‘The Beatles’, ‘Joy Division’, ‘Echo & the Bunneymen’, ‘TheThe’ and ‘The Cure’ is used to frame some of the themes. Some of New Zealand’s best musical talent has been brought together to play this music live within the play.

Emma Johnson, part of last years fringe award winning Christchurch ‘freetheatre’, group will be singing. Musicians include Darren Steadman of renowned NZ band ‘The Verlaines’. Poetry written specifically for the play is featured. In all a multi-faceted piece with something for everyone.

Hemingway is played by Ian Loughran who has performed in Europe, Australia and NZ and is a Dunedin based artiste and writer.
Friday 27th and Saturday 28th March 8pm
Arc Café venue 135 High Street, Dunedin

The Hemlocks
Soprano: Emma Johnston
Cello: Nicole Reddington
Drums & Guitar: Darren Steadman (from The Verlaines)

Rambling discourse flattens intelligent research

Review by Terry MacTavish 30th Mar 2009

If you have ever wanted to spend an evening with a depressed writer who is about to blow his brains out, this is the show for you. If, on the other hand, that sounds a tad grim, I must agree. Even though the depressive is Ernest Hemingway, and he has some damn good stories to tell, the cumulative effect has one wanting to pick up the on-stage rifle and hurry the job along.

Fortunately there is marvellous music by, I think, The Hemlocks* [there was no programme provided], ensconced alongside ‘Hemingway’ on the tiny stage, managing to make a song about a dripping tap exciting, while the famous author’s flat delivery dulls down tales of revolutions and disasters. 

The blurb promises ‘theatre, photography, film and pop music’, but though the venue is the funky Arc Cafe, with walls appropriately covered with graffiti and the obligatory poster of Che Guevara, I did not notice photography or film. And they would have helped. Thank heaven for the crisp sauvignon.

The show begins promisingly, with a pleasantly casual introduction through some of the performer’s own poetry,* and pertinent statements like ‘revolutionary new mascara – not the meaning of the word’, before he dons a silver wig to become Hemingway. Now it is 1960, one year after the Revolution in Cuba. "Castro and I are mates. He’s a paranoid son-of-a-bitch." But life is almost unbearable for Hemingway. "Lady Luck has farted squarely into my face".

The rambling discourse of an evening takes us through Hemingway’s life, from the horror of his father’s bungled suicide, to his own injuries in three wars and two plane crashes. He says he is desperate to get his message across, to help us – and beloved wife Mary – understand the bite of what Churchill called ‘the black dog’. Some phrases stick – "the devil dog’s been chewing on my mind" – but the actor* appears to be reading most of his monologue and his vocal delivery lacks urgency.

The Fringe is certainly the place for experimentation, and the concept of Last Postcard is intriguing, the music fantastic. Intelligent research has clearly gone into this project, and the script has potential, but cries out for a director to imbue it with the dynamics needed to offset the downbeat material. 

*[Terry is correct: The Hemlocks – see Production page for credits; and the writer / director / actor is Ian Loughran]


artif ice March 31st, 2009

Nah I agree: he did appear to be reading. It wasn't that he picked up his script. It was that he sat gazing at the desk to his right for much of the performance. Maybe that was meant to convey his depression, or maybe he was indeed reading, but if you're the hapless viewer it doesn't make much difference does it. Director wanted! 
PS: who is artif ice? I tried to log in and then it said, "Welcome artif ice". So I'm posting as such but I'm not artif ice. This comment does not necessarily represent the view of artif ice!

Suzanne Forte March 30th, 2009

I'm not sure Terry was at the same show I saw, or maybe had a glass or too much of that crisp wine (perhaps she is nornally a food & wine critic). The actor only picked up paper for 2 short intervals of the play and then only to portray Hemingways poor memory and reliance on notes to himself. (as was made clear in the script). Also I'm not sure how 'dynamic' a performance of a depressed person should be. I think the ODT Art critic hits it more on the money when he described the play as 'moving'. Maybe Terry needs more obvious material and guidance from programmes and handouts.

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