Just a coupla reviews: One Night the Moon and The Year of Magical Thinking
This stage adaptation of Rachel Perkins’ terrific short film One Night The Moon has excellent ‘provenance’. The adaptation is penned by Perkins’ original writing collaborator John Romeril and the music is played by (among others) one of the film score’s composers, Mairead Hannan.
The beautiful and effective music -- by Hannan, Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly -- is driving, Celtic-infused folk. It powers the piece, from the reverent beginning to the catastrophic conclusion. And director Wesley Enoch makes a fair fist of turning cinema magic into stage magic.
But the transition from one medium to the other stumbles and staggers quite badly. You wouldn’t guess that the stump-jump plough had been invented fifty-five years before the action of the play. The spoken word sections trip up the flow of the narrative time after time after time, bringing it to a crunching halt.
Bizarrely, the country and folk voices of the film have been replaced by raspy rock and roll (Mark Seymour in Paul Kelly’s role) and classic music theatre voices in roles previously sung by actors. Good as she is -- and, really, she is the best of the actors -- Natalie O’Donnell sounded like she was understudying Debra Byrne in Les Misérables. As the white woman, and grieving mother of the missing six year-old girl, this was perfectly apt. But for the black tracker (Kirk Page) to sing like the romantic tenor lead from a musical comedy was more than a little off-putting.
Missing entirely from this production is the little girl. She’s a disembodied voice and a wraithlike projection.
Compared to the short film, this stage adaptation of One Night The Moon is incredibly heavy-handed. Lines like “beyond the known, we’re not alone” are left hanging in space. Mystery, which can be established in a single shot in a film, is infinitely harder to pull-off in a theatre. The comparison between a maggot-ridden lost lamb and the little girl seems mawkish and obvious.
Enoch and Romeril do better in illustrating the tension between the world having its way with us and us having our way with the world. But, overall, the parable-like simplicity of the original story -- while carried brilliantly in the music -- now seems simpleminded.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Directed by Cate Blanchett. (Jennifer Flowers, associate.) Set Design by Alice Babidge. Costume design by Giorgio Armani. Sound design by Natasha Anderson. Lighting design by Nick Schlieper. At the Cremorne Theatre, Brisbane, until October 17.
On Christmas Day 2003, Joan Didion’s daughter Quintana was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at Beth Israel North in New York. A winter cold had spiralled into pneumonia and then complete septic shock.
Five days later, after visiting their comatose daughter, Didion and her writer husband John Gregory Dunne lit a fire at home and sat down to eat. John ended up face down on his dinner plate, dead of a massive coronary.
Though outwardly accepting of her husband’s death, the rational and intelligent Joan refuses to part with John’s shoes. He will need them if he came back, she thinks.
Thus began Didion’s “year of magical thinking,” a year in which the writer turned her life into a kind of fiction, a year in which she simply refused to accept that the outcome of her life with her husband was fixed, that it couldn’t be revised or rewritten like a screenplay.
Didion’s cool-headed account of that year sold hundreds of thousands of copies in hardback. This stage version, also by Didion, is a kind of sequel. (Tragically, Quintana died as the book was about to hit the stores in 2005.)
In this STC production -- presented by the QTC -- Cate Blanchett directs Robyn Nevin. Yes, the Sydney Theatre Company’s new artistic director directs the recently-retired boss. Just as BC (Before Cate) turned to AD with this production, the calendar of Didion’s life restarted with the death of the man she lived with -- and worked alongside -- for forty joyful years.
Didion trawls through their memories and re-dates them: their final trip to Paris becomes 32 days BC. Her last birthday, 25 days BC. Their daughter’s wedding, eight months BC. And so on.
A visit to LA where Quintana is again hospitalised -- this time with a life threatening brain injury -- becomes a desperate quest to avoid familiar places, from the days when the three lived in Malibu. Unguarded memories suck Didion into a vortex in which she has no control over fate. These memories are like improvised explosive devices on the roadside in Iraq.
The stage version of The Year of Magical Thinking -- like the book -- is anything but maudlin. It’s analytical. And very blunt. There are no euphemisms here. Didion likes her truth neat. And it takes your breath away like over-proof liquor.
Nevin, one of our greatest actors, is a joy to watch. Even at her quietest, her voice carries easily and clearly to the back of the theatre. She’s a definition of control, even here, portraying a wife and mother almost paralysed with grief.
It’s a good looking production, though like Cate Blanchett’s other recent productions, the sound is overdone and overly literal.