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Tammy Weller, Anna Mowry, The Grand Tammy Weller, Anna Mowry, The Grand
photo Aaron Ashley
The inaugural year of The Gold Coast Arts Centre’s intrepid Independent Season closed with the debut of Victoria Carless’ The Grand, produced by Gold Coast independent company, White Rabbit, led by director Lisa Smith.

Carless grew up in Cairns and won the Queensland Theatre Company George Landen Dann Award for her pro-refugee drama The Rainbow Dark in 2006. The Grand is a fascinating collaboration: regionally affiliated practitioners making a work about their respective tourist towns and the faded glamour and eerie nostalgia of an empty beachside resort.

The piece opens with a tremulous young woman (Tammy Weller) in a headscarf knocking on the imposing art deco double doors of The Grand Hotel. The door is answered by the imposing owner (Anna Mowry), who rejects the woman’s entreaties for work: it is the off-season, times are hard and guests are scarce. The young woman persists, wheedling her way inside, saying her mother worked there in its heyday. The doors are flung open and the older woman ushers her new protégé inside the foyer of the once luxurious hotel.

The first part of the play is driven by the instruction of the young woman in the mysterious ways of The Grand, empty save one unseen guest and crumbling under the onslaught of nesting birds and dwindling supplies. Slowly we understand that there will be no guests. The brave gallantry of the two women is expressed through their dogged focus on the daily rituals of hospitality: washing the bed linen stained with blood, mixing cocktails with flamingo swizzle sticks, scrubbing the floors clean of bird shit and reverentially opening the guest book to scrutinise the non-existent bookings.

Carless has a beautiful turn of phrase and a distinctive theatrical voice, unhurried and mesmerising as she builds the relationship between the two women. Are they half-sisters? Is this an elaborate game between them or merely the fantasy of one woman dying slowly in a poisoned world?

Alas, the looping games do not build in intensity but simply repeat themselves without deconstruction or game-play, or the sly wit of an absurdist non-sequitur. The gentle beauty of the language never deepens into complexity or ambiguity and so the piece feels oddly a-thematic, without the promised insight into the hollowness of the pleasure-town or the consequence of environmental violation. The gothic cupboards never open. The mystery guest/ghost never appears. The blood-stained sheets do not presage a violent act. The poison weakens but does not kill and the status quo between the two women barely changes.

The play feels like a clock slowly losing time and one that finishes for no other reason than that the mechanism needs to be rewound. Indeed, the climax of the piece is a re-enactment of the opening scene but with the older woman playing the stranger, relying on repetition again rather than progression or interrogation to resolve the piece. It isn’t that there needs to be an answer to the gentle ominousness of the gothic tropes but more a feeling that there is a corker of a play here yet to be dug out.

Gold Coast Arts Centre Independent Theatre Season: White Rabbit Theatre Company, The Grand, writer Victoria Carless, director Lisa Smith, Space Theatre, Gold Coast, 14-23 Nov, 2013

RealTime issue #119 Feb-March 2014 pg. 37

© Kathryn Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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