Navigating by Katherine Thomson premiered in 1997 and has since been compared to Bertolt Brecht’s Fear And Misery In The Third Reich.
The comparison has some merit. Both plays have short scenes, blend the personal with the political and feature the individual’s struggle against a fascist monolith.
Thomson is one of Australia’s most respected playwrights, but she ain’t Brecht. Navigating is at times overwritten, clunky, two-dimensional and even implausible. It requires strong direction and experienced acting to make it work -“ but sadly the latest production at the New Theatre only exacerbates the play’s shortcomings.
In many ways, Juliette Ferrier’s direction of Navigating is a primer in what not to do. The play generally features only two or three characters on stage at the same time. It should not be played in a massive space, especially when the stage’s dimensions can be altered.
The New Theatre is a moveable feast, but here the design is too deep. The actors hover upstage, kilometres away, for much of the performance. At play’s end, one doesn’t know whether to clap or wave.
Performances range from adequate to frustrating. The play is about a small coastal town’s hostile reaction to a whistleblower, a middle-aged council worker called Bea (Christine Greenough). Sadly, Greenough’s decline into paranoia is expressed in a continuous gasping whine, which guarantees zero empathy.
Actors do things like walking off angrily, then turning back at the last minute, in defiance. When Bea’s put-upon sister Isola (Meredith Porteous) moves directly downstage of Bea during an argument, it could not have been more obvious she is about to get stage-slapped. And she is. Badly.
New Theatre should be congratulated for the New Directions program, which has seen five Australian premieres and three world premieres over the last five years.
The program is also worthy because it allows new directors to hone their craft. Hopefully this production is proving an instructive experience.
Navigating is showing at the New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown, until 2 October. Phone 9519 8958.