|Sam Longley, Not Like Beckett|
photo Jon Green
Watts’ text deals with the fallen vaudevillian scion of a wealthy mining-and-squattocracy family of Australian rabbits. He found fame and fortune by drawing on the prejudices and clichéd scatological expectations of his audiences, before being marooned on the outback hummock where the play is set, his leg cruelly mangled in a trap. Mixing rude bush humour with a dash of Samuel Beckett’s Malone Dies, the protagonist, Walter Walloon Beckett reminisces about his life and fate as he awaits his final apotheosis and extinction at the hand of a trapper to become a fine felt hat. Even in death, Walter is egocentric. His thoughts do however turn to his absent former lover and performing partner, the indigenous bilby Boo Boo, whose presence is alluded to in Alison Brayford’s anthropomorphic set of painted mammarial rocks.
Director Emily McLean’s production focuses predominantly on the story and on Longley’s lanky six foot presence, the actor skilfully shifting from pathetic self-pity and egoism to unashamedly jocular exposition as he describes Walter’s signature acts of sticking a carrot up his arse and his realisation that all rabbits do is fuck everything in sight. Walter’s show thus morphs from leap-frogging over rabbits in order to fuck them from behind to the more popular performance for his peers of fucking over the indigenous bilbies as vigorously and frequently as possible. Watts’ script has plenty of barbs like this.
Longley’s well paced, well shaped solo is interspersed with sound effects (boom-tish cymbals and so on), sudden bursts of garish front lights and even segues into song (“I Did It My Way”). Generally though, these music-hall elements are rhythmic diversions from Walter’s life story. While McLean and Longley produce a fine show, it lacks some theatrical spark and bite. Particularly odd is a finale played for pathos, Longley doing a realistic dying scene, and much of the promotion and criticism in Perth focussed on Watts’ play as a tragic “love story.”
Watts’ monstrous allegory is not well suited to this interpretation and the somewhat lukewarm response to Not Like Beckett outside Melbourne may be attributable to this, together with a lingering sense that West Australians and Territorians feel they live closer to the frontline of contemporary colonialism and race relations than the distant, self-satisfied urbanites of the east. Certainly, Kantor’s own vigorous embrace of urban themes and iconography by referencing not Sinatra but Sid Vicious in Walter’s singing, by casting the protagonist as a reincarnation of famous Australian vaudevillian Roy Rene, and by setting the play not in the bush but on the once infamous Vault (or ‘Yellow Peril’) public sculpture of central Melbourne, had no counterpart in Perth. While WA could do with more nasty little plays like this, I missed Kantor’s insistence that both Australian history and its theatre is a dastardly mishmash of influences and locales that must be rendered in all of their horrible, clashing complexity if we are to accurately represent our society.
Not Like Beckett, writer Michael Watts, director Emily McLean, performer Sam Longley, design Alison Brayford, lighting Andrew Portwine, Deckchair Theatre, Victoria Theatre, Fremantle, July 26-Aug 12, 2007; Not Like Beckett, writer Michael Watts, director Michael Kantor, performer Russell Dykstra, design Anna Cordingly, lighting Niklas Pajanti, sound Darren Verhagen; Malthouse Theatre,
July 28-Aug 20, 2006
RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. 32
© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to email@example.com