Pompeii, LA is the latest work from Declan Greene and it is a fascinating schizophrenic beast that swells and heaves – offering its audiences glaring insights into the realities of an apocalyptic America.
The obsession with America is not new for Australia. But it is refreshing to see that the obsession can sometimes explore the very obsessions of tinsel town itself and engage with the illusions that abound in the city of angels.
The play constantly shifts offering different perspectives, challenging expectations and inverting that which is supposedly ‘real’. We are confronted with scenes backstage between a highly strung make-up artist and a talk-show host; a confrontational rehearsal for a new disaster film; a powerful monologue that explores paedophilia; confessions, cravings, temptations; unfulfilled desires and beneath it all the fractures of our lives becomes obvious.
While the dialogue is engaging, the text still requires further polishing. Occasional lapses into simplistic references serve little purpose other than locate the scene, and the fevered pitch at which some of the scenes are set create an almost aggressive pace that doesn’t allow the audience the space to enter into and witness some of the key moments. Overall however, the narrative trajectory is in place and if somewhat chaotic it is clearly the dysfunctional world of illusion and heighted realities that we are engaging with.
The stand out performers of the production are Belinda McClory and Greg Stone – both of whom delivered sophisticated and highly nuanced performances particularly as the drunken Judy Garland and the paedophilic crazed father.
Nick Schlieper’s set design echoes the central theme of Greene’s play and is excessive, bright and almost lurid in tone. Occasionally this obsession with florid visuals (magnificent as they are) tends to overwhelm the characters and their voice – but this lack of voice in a tumultuous landscape has its place and is one of the strongest themes in the play.
Matthew Lutton’s direction is well punctuated and he has created a seamless production that integrates David Frankze’s carefully crafted sound design with Schlieper’s continuously morphing set design.
Finally, from the title the obvious connection to Pompeii and earthquakes is (thankfully) a subtle one that reiterates the fragility of the human condition and its susceptibility to the charms of celebrity success. The analogy is perhaps not the most useful one because LA often suffers from fires and ash is a very common phenomenon, experienced in an intimate and often silent engagement with nature – unlike the roar of destruction upon the Porsche used inGreene’s play.
But this perhaps taking the references too literally. But then again, this is a play that is entirely about how we reference our world and ourselves. And that is certainly one of its strengths.