Madagascar | Melbourne Theatre CompanyThrough the presentation of three interwoven monologues, the characters in Madagascar demonstrate what becomes of people when that which they have used as guides to life, and to define themselves, fail them, or even disappear. They have been let down by a husband, a twin, a lover, a mother, even a dream. What then? Do they run away? Do they go in search of what they’ve lost? Or do they simply cease trying?

Lilian (Noni Hazlehurst) is a middle aged woman, whose life has been lived for her children and in particular her favourite child, Gideon, whose arrival in Rome she is eagerly awaiting. The younger and rather wealthy June (Asher Keddie) has fled to Rome where her days consist of reading the newspaper and guiding tourists around the city. Her greatest form of company is the memories she has of her twin brother. Then there is Nathan (Nicholas Bell), an Economist who has travelled to Rome to be with his lover.

In true MTC style, under the direction of Sam Strong, the production itself is first class. The performances are every bit as enthralling as one would expect, with Hazlehurst particularly natural and of the three, delivering her American accent with the most fluidity.

Jo Briscoe has created the Roman apartment to which the three characters have been drawn and it is beautiful in its simplicity. It has a floor of large, beige stone tiles, bare walls, arched windows and high ceilings and though there is never a glimpse of the outside world, in combination with Paul Jackson’s lighting, it creates a scene that is inextricably Italian.

With all this in mind, Madagascar should be good. But even after some significant consideration, this theatregoer must admit, rather reluctantly, that she is yet to find that certain something that puts this work in a new, clearer, and more brilliant light.

The play’s downfall is that playwright J.T. Rogers seems not to know what his play is trying to say or how to say it. To begin, his characters are not particularly interesting, and they are so self absorbed that there is little opportunity to feel any sort of empathy for them.

The stories themselves promise to reveal what happened to the young man to whom they are all connected, who one day, simply, disappeared. But the stories fit together all too neatly and even the moment that should be most surprising is in fact rather predictable.

The setting of Rome has the potential to conjure up some wonderful images of romance and a great ambience, but in the text at least, there is no vision of these. Instead, Rogers uses the ancient city as a symbol of times past, through which his characters can marvel at sculptures of gods and goddesses in all their perfection – images of what his characters wish to be but never will. June particularly, in her white dress, and with her dreams of being a goddess, is symbolic of this striving for purity and goodness, and ultimately, she is the only one of the characters who has not committed adultery, nor abandoned her loved ones. That said, she also becomes one of the most irritating of the characters as Rogers has plied her with many of the more laborious phrases.

Rogers’ use of metaphor and symbolism has the potential to give this work a great mystical quality but he uses them far too frequently. It is telling that perhaps the most effective use of symbolism, and undoubtedly the most memorable moment in this play, is one of the few that is delivered without words. It comes from the subtle and slow seeping of water through the floor until whole sections of it are flooded. The water is that of the characters’ memories, the water that may claim a life, and the water that has the potential to cleanse them of all their sins. It also forms the reflective surface through which they can finally see themselves, rather than through another.

In a strange way, Rogers has demonstrated through his work, as well as through the content of his work, that sometimes things simply do not live up to our expectations.

Melbourne Theatre Company presents
by J.T. Rogers

Directed by Sam Strong

Venue: the Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio
Dates: 12 February - 27 March 2010
Opening night: Wednesday 17 February 2010 @ 8:00pm
Bookings: MTC Box Office (03) 8688 0800, | Ticketmaster 1300 723 038 | the Arts Centre, or 1300 182 183


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