05 July 2010

"I love this play" - A view from inside Mauritius

By: Aaron Alexander

Generally speaking, play scripts are hard to read. With nothing but dialogue and the odd stage direction it takes a lot of work to conjure up an image of the drama in your mind. Without the descriptive prose you’d get in a novel it’s easy to lose track of characters, their attitudes and motivations from scene to scene.

Not so Mauritius.

Theresa Rebeck’s script was a genuine page-turner, far and away the most entertaining play I’ve ever sat down and read. Her writing is lean, smart, surprising and funny. Most of all, it’s the work of a committed storyteller. She strikes me as a playwright who knows it is a priviledge to have the audience’s attention for two hours and wants to reward them with an engaging tale that keeps them guessing till the very last moment.

She’s created five flawed individuals who, just like in real life, do things that make you like them, loathe them and pity them, sometimes all at once. All of them have shadowy pasts; a history of bad choices leaving secret scars. As the playwright says, with people, as with stamps, it’s the errors that make them interesting, and valuable.

Aaron Alexander as Philip

For us, as a cast and crew, the chance to build a show on this foundation has made coming to work a joy. On day one I was delighted to discover that the other actors had all found the script equally ‘unputdownable’ and were excited to get stuck in. Leading the enterprise was Ross Jolly, and we could not have been in better hands. It’s been my good fortune to work with Ross on a number of occasions and I’ve learned that the thing he cares about most as a director is the audience – what are they discovering in this scene, this moment, this line? His finely honed instinct for timing, placement and guiding the audience’s focus was a perfect match for Theresa Rebeck’s storytelling priority.

We five actors had a great time rehearsing this show. We discovered we’d been given characters who at first seemed simple almost to the point of being ‘types’, (the Nerd, the Gangster, the Conman, the Innocent, the Prude), but who quickly revealed a much subtler humanity. As the audience discovers through the course of the play, there is far more to these people than meets the eye. Theresa’s dialogue has all the sharpness of her TV background, and when we really got going it fair crackled along. Now, with the addition of the Circa audience, whose listening, laughing and rapt, bright-eyed attention lifts us to new heights, we are a deeply satisfied bunch.

I have the pleasure of sharing the stage with a phenomenally talented group of actors. Each night I get to be inexcusably rude to the charming but dangerous Danielle Mason, tremble at the approach of a fearsome Jeff Thomas, marvel at the energy and loquaciousness of Andrew Foster and be transported by the tragicomic tightrope walk of Lyndee-Jane Rutherford.

(left to right) Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, Aaron Alexander, Andrew Foster and Danielle Mason

Our stage manager, Mr. Eric Gardiner, is the steady hand on the tiller of the waka during the season, not to mention the strong back behind the revolving set. Eric volunteered for the task of pushing the set around half a dozen times a night when it became clear days before opening night that our electric motor was not up to the task. Mechanical horsepower is no match for a stout English yeoman with a pair of gloves and an “I’ll do it m’self” attitude. Eric’s silent, invisible efforts that result in the gliding revolution of the set epitomises, I think, the huge amounts of unseen work that goes in to bringing you a stage production like Mauritius.

Personally, I’m very proud of what we’ve brought together in this production. It’s one of those ‘perfect storm’ scenarios where all the creative and technical elements (electric motor excepted) have fit together beautifully. The feedback from our audiences so far has been fantastic and, believe me, we can sense how much they’ve been enjoying it from the stage. I can feel the audience being drawn towards us and onto the edge of their seats in the climactic final act, and hear their gasps of surprise at every twist, turn and doublecross.

After opening night I sent a message to Theresa Rebeck through her website, not really expecting a reply. To my surprise and delight she sent a lovely note back, expressing how glad she was to hear from us in New Zealand. She finished very simply by saying:

‘I love this play.’

The fact that the writer has such unabashed affection for her script speaks volumes.

I hope you will come down to Circa and join us for an evening of thrills, laughs and rampant, no-holds-barred philately. I reckon you’ll come out feeling, like all of us from Theresa Rebeck on down, that Mauritius is a play that’s easy to love, and hard to forget.

Mauritius is on at Circa until 24 July. To book your tickets, please call 04-801-7992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant performance and wonderful script. The flawed characters reveal themselves beautifully when their insecurities are exposed.