David Mamet’s ‘A Life in the Theatre,’ currently playing at the Eternity Playhouse as part of the Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s season, examines the challenges and rewards of a life committed to an industry that has both so much to offer, but simultaneously demands so much in return. Chronicling the experiences of two actors, one young, one old, the play highlights how easily show biz rolls from being exciting to being a monotonous line up of costume changes (so many costume changes in this show!), pointless scenes and actor attitudes to deal with. In saying this, the play is one of Mamet’s great comedies because of the accuracy of the relationship, the great use of meta-theatre and mainly because of the unapologetic ‘love letter’ feel that Mamet gives to this script.
Breathing new life into it is Helen Dallimore in the director’s chair. In a play that could quickly be overtaken by the staccato pace and language employed by Mamet, Dallimore has ensured that through the over-dramatization of the comedic moments, the audience gleams with delight and laughter throughout. Dallimore’s choice to use dim lighting with up-beat tunes and the comedy of the costume changes made for excellent scene breaks, rather than black outs, and definitely offered the audience great enjoyment.
Designed to offer an intimate look at the backstage world of the theatre, Hugh O’Connor’s set is clever, and though it initially appears minimalist, the employment of an array of props keeps each scene fresh for the audience and seemingly actors alike. Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s home, the Eternity Playhouse, is a most perfect setting for this performance as it is large enough to remind audiences of the theatre that these actors are engaged with, and yet intimate enough to allow for a realistic and heart-warming or wrenching (I’m still not too sure) look at the life of the actor. This was my first visit to the Eternity and as a live performance venue in Sydney, it is one not to miss!
Before discussing the actors, though my reviews in the past have not offered much of a feature of stage management, in this instance, a special mention must be given to Sunil Chandra. In his role as assistant stage manager, he also found himself as the third actor of the play due to his very present and very funny role on stage. Chandra works hard, that is evident, but it was the moments of fun with the actors – for example, whilst throwing feathers from below into their faces – where the audience is endeared to this extra character and to Chandra himself.
In the starring roles of Robert and John, John Gaden and Akos Armont offer a brilliant and believable rapport as a stage-veteran and a young up-and-comer, respectively. As the two must share a dressing room and overcome the struggles associated with this intimacy of space, their relationship develops and their positions within the theatre and the industry change dramatically. Robert, experienced and well revered as an actor, is evidently struggling with the consequences of ageing – his fears of replacement and his diminishing levels of respect from other actors on and off stage, as well as the critics, emphasizes to him the loneliness of old age and insurmountable feelings of redundancy. Contrasting this, John’s career is on the rise. He has a stable job in the theatre, a mentor in Robert – however reluctant he is to take his advice at times – and the critics are starting to notice him and his work. The theatre for both, however, is seemingly a refuge – a place to practice new scenes to an empty audience, as much as it is a home for those who have committed their lives to this craft. Gaden and Armont are well cast in their respective roles and do well to keep the audience engaged throughout.
As a performer myself, I found myself smiling and enjoying the dramatized but truthfully treasured camaraderie that those in the industry intrinsically share. Unquestionably, as in the case of the two characters, these relationships can be strained but much like Robert continues to enforce, there is an honour and an etiquette to the theatre that this show so cleverly exposes.