Nathan Booth and Matt Seery have been given the great privilege of bringing a Tim Crouch work to Brisbane. A play but not in the conventional sense, Crouch’s story is open to the interpretation of each audience member and proves wonderfully unique.
The show is split into three experiences; audiences enter a mostly vacant second floor to take in their surroundings. Art pieces hang on the walls, props lie off to the side, seats can be seen in a back room, and the taping down of chords can help one trace the placement of lights. Then the two actors – Barbara Lowing and Steven Tandy – enter and address everyone, drawing them in.
They walk and talk, sometimes in a world of their own and sometimes speaking directly to an audience member and often referring to the art on the wall as various things. Are Tandy and Lowing playing different iterations of the same character, different parts of that character’s interior monologue or different characters at times? That might be open to interpretation, but what is clear is that someone is not well and they are facing their mortality with the proximity of the performances only making this more moving.
The third and final piece sees everyone shuffled to the seats in the back room where now Tandy is playing an interpreter and Lowing is the character from the earlier part. To reveal more would be a disservice but there are heavy themes of mortality, globalisation, different forms of imperialism and how relationships react to illness. What value we place on morals, identity, art and wealth.
When asked about the themes that interested him about ‘ENGLAND’, Creative Producer Nathan Booth recalled the words of Tandy on opening night about how the value of a painting based on how much it can sell for, can be meaningless to someone who has lost a loved one and knows nothing of that world.
The two veteran actors bring so much to the show, their beautiful lines overlap several times and the rhythm is never broken despite the possibility of unexpected distractions when engaging so closely with the audience. They also convey the high emotions of the story and the ambiguity of who they are.
The art pieces fare less well, they’re beautiful and abstract but there could have been more of them in terms of scope and variety. Amelia K. Fulton’s work includes a tree with red leaves, a chameleon (a desert creature), a snowflake, a sunflower and one full tree, all with green leaves. One could see here the four seasons rendered and the tree of life. Somebody else might see something in the iris of the chameleon (also a jungle creature) bearing similarity to the centre of the sunflower. Somebody else could see far less but should take the time to look.
The actors repeat refrains throughout “He saved my life.”, “Clean lines.”, “He’s inside me.” “I’m thanking her.” And most importantly “Look.” Look at the art, look at the world and look at your life. What is important to you and what is important to us all? ‘ENGLAND’ is worth that look.
‘ENGLAND’ plays at Metro Arts until 29 April.