Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Grand

The Space – The Arts Centre, Gold Coast

14th November 2013


The Arts Centre, Gold Coast runs a season of Independent Theatre upstairs in The Space each year. All are fascinating new works: all are the culmination of months (if not years) of hard work: all are enjoyable theatre experiences. The latest Indi-production by Writer / Producer Victoria Carless is no exception.
"The Grand" *

The Grand is, she tells us in her program notes, about “belonging” … “the unique feeling we get in a place that is both at once comforting and familiar, strangely steeped in memories”. As one might expect, The Grand was once a vibrant, beautifully appointed seaside hotel. But times have changed … the tourists have moved on and The Grand no longer enjoys the influx of excited holidaymakers at the start of each much-anticipated summer season. However one dark evening, there is a knock at the front door and there stands a solitary figure, Euginia - a seemingly shy young girl, offering her services to the stately and unwelcoming manageress, Matilda.

Eugina manages to talk her way into refuge for the “one evening only” … but stays. She learns the ropes: how to make a bed, clean a floor, hand-wash blood from a sheet. Of course, she must never go behind the desk – that is Matilda’s domain.

There is no assuming that this is a story in the traditional sense because, although there is a clear beginning, there really is no end … that, Ms Carless cunningly leaves up to the audience to decide. Interestingly, after the show, I chatted over a glass of bubbles with a number of friends and colleagues also in the audience for the Opening Night performance. Amusingly, we all came up with different scenarios for the play’s outcome – different explanations for what had just happened. Basically, we all had seen different shows. And I suggest that is precisely the writer’s bold intention.

Tammy Wheeler and Anna Mowry * 
Tammy Wheeler plays the young itinerant superbly. Her sweet innocence clearly belies an underlying intention – although that intention is never quite allowed to surface. Anita Mowry is lovely as the matriarchal proprietor of the majestic establishment with (one may assume) spare pillows, a blanket and a skeleton in every closet.

Director, Lisa Smith has blocked the piece beautifully – her use of half-speed, slightly stilted movement, to pass time and blanket scene changes, is most effective. There is clearly a nice rapport between these characters and a cleverly developed fascination with their very being that never seems to wane.

The set design by Luke Ede is charming: simple but again, very effective. The detail in the finishing is simply stunning. Michael Bunen’s carefully considered lighting gives the stage a beautiful, eerie feeling of a fading, but glorious past – for both the tired establishment and the ladies toiling within it.

So is Euginia is really an innocent traveller … or is there an ulterior motive to her unannounced arrival? And is Matilda just a cold old woman protecting a catalogue of family secrets … or are they just two little girls playing a game of “make believe”? We’ll never know … and that’s what precisely makes this play such a clever piece of contemporary theatre.

Glenn T.
* Images by Aaron Ashley

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