Friday, September 9, 2016

THE FAITHFUL SERVANT


By Tom Davis
Directed by Caroline Stacey
Designed by Imogen Keen
Sound by Kimmo Vennonen
Lighting by Linda Buck
Street Theatre 7 – 18th September

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Carrying the ashes of her dead father, Dr. Raymond Gerrard (PJ Williams), a young Mozambiquan woman, Caroline Gerrard, (Tariro Mavondo) arrives at the “Australians For Hope” hospital in rural Mozambique, to discover it in ruins.

Dr. Gerrard had devoted 50 years of his life to financing and running the hospital, only to die painfully and ignominiously in a Canberra hospital.

In an attempt to make something of her father’s life and work, his adopted daughter, now a doctor herself has returned to Mozambique to discover that her father’s trusted colleague, Coetano Perreira (Dorian Nkono), is looking to her to rebuild the hospital and carry on her father’s work.

Tarito Mavondo as Caroline Gerrard in "The Faithful Servant" 

With “The Faithful Servant”, playwright, Tom Davis, has drawn on his own experience in Foreign Aid to devise a compelling play of epic proportions which questions our concepts of goodness, and what it means to be good. Spanning a period of 51 years, the play jumps backwards and forward across time, with scenes taking place on ships, in hospitals - both in Mozambique and Canberra - in refugee camps in Zimbabwe, on railway stations and in doctor’s consulting rooms.

With just three actors at her disposal, director, Caroline Stacey, meets the challenges of the script with considerable flair, devising a sweeping, panoramic production to tell an essentially intimate story of the interwoven cross-cultural lives of these three people. It is a production that is as fascinating for the carefully staged details, as for its epic scale, often leaving the impression that there are many more actors occupying the stage than there are, and rewarding the commitment and concentration demanded of the audience, by quickly drawing them into the kaleidoscope of events and relationships which unravel throughout almost two hours of uninterrupted running time.

Integral to the success of the production is Imogen Keen’s remarkable setting, crowned with a large abstract sculpture, which effectively captures the sense of the heat and desolation of Mozambique. The audience are seated on-stage, either side of dusty orange road stretching from the very back of the theatre right out into the auditorium. A few crucial items of hospital equipment and furniture are moved around the stage by the cast.

A striking lighting design by Linda Buck, complimented by Scott Holgate’s video images of self-serving advertisements projected on to the corrugated roller door at the back of the stage, together with a stunning soundscape by Kimmo Vennonen, all combine to define the various scenes, and compliment the dialogue, sweeping the audience along in the events of the play.

PJ Williams as Dr Raymond Gerrard in "The Faithful Servant"  

As Dr Raymond Gerrard, PJ Williams is required to portray his character at various periods of his life. Not ideal casting physically, particularly for those scenes involving the youthful Dr Gerrard, Williams none-the- less astonishes in the critical scenes which occur towards the end of Gerrard’s career,  with a multi-layered performance that captures the futility of his character’s efforts to maintain his integrity even while slipping into dementia.

All the other roles in “The Faithful Servant” are played by two outstanding African-Australian actors.  Tariro Mavondo, in addition to playing Dr Gerrard’s adopted daughter, Caroline, also plays four other characters during the course of the play, and Dorian Nkono, plays two other characters, in addition to his role as Dr Gerrard’s colleague, Coetano Perreira.

PJ Williams (Dr Raymond Gerrard) and Dorian Nkono (Coetano Perreira) in "The Faithful Servant"

Both give remarkably nuanced performances, however, it would have added much to the clarity of the production if the budget could have been stretched to involve two additional actors for the multiple small characters, because as admirable as Mavondo and Nkono are at portraying various roles, it is sometimes difficult to keep track of who is who as the play changes time frames.

Tom Davis has crafted an intelligent, complex play which shines light not only on issues of International concern, but also raises probing questions about what drives the human spirit. It is a play which will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.

  
Tariro Mavondo and Dorian Nkono in "The Faithful Servant" 


                                            Photos by Shelly Higgs

This review also appears in "Australian Arts Review". www.artsreview.com.au

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