Directed by Caroline Stacey
The Street Theatre to 18 September
Review by Len Power 16 September 2016
‘The Faithful Servant’ by Tom Davis plays for 105 minutes without an interval. It’s the quickest 105 minutes you’ll experience in the theatre. The play engages the audience immediately with well-developed and interesting characters, striking staging and an absorbing story.
Dr. Raymond Gerrard has spent over 50 years working in the ‘Australians For Hope’ hospital in rural Mozambique. Coetano Perreira has been his right-hand man for decades, but now wants the organisation to become faith-based. Gerrard’s adopted daughter from Mozambique, Caroline, has grown up in Australia and wants to stay there and pursue her GP practice. Moving back and forth in time from Gerrard’s first arrival in Mozambique until his death, it becomes clear that being good isn’t as straight forward as it sounds.
As well as telling an interesting story, the strength of this play is in its three main characters. All three are well-meaning but flawed people and Tom Davis makes them come alive with the depth of detail he gives each of them. He is aided by three actors who play with such sincerity and skill that the emotional interplay between them gives the play a fierce reality.
At the centre of the play, Peter (PJ) Williams gives a vivid and moving portrait of an innocent doctor who came to Africa ‘just to help’ and stayed on for virtually the rest of his life, becoming a much-loved figure amongst the locals. As his adopted daughter, Caroline, Tariro Mavondo gives an excellent performance as the tough, conflicted young GP in Australia resisting the call of her country and her father to help. Dorian Nkono gives a subtle reading of his role as Coetano Perreira. Is he good or does he have another agenda and is that a bad thing anyway? The actor plays the fine balance so skilfully that we’re never quite sure.
Minor characters are played by Mavondo and Nkono. This was confusing at times and it would have been preferable to have extra cast members playing these roles.
Caroline Stacey’s direction of the play is brilliantly imaginative and works very well. Having the audience seated onstage on either side of the large playing area helped to draw us into the action. Once again, Imogen Keen has designed a production that is unusual and very impressive. Kimmo Vennonen’s complex sound design was especially atmospheric and effective. Lighting by Linda Buck would have been quite a challenge with the unusual playing area but it worked perfectly. Video by Scott Holgate was well-designed and complemented the action onstage.
Tom Davis’s previous play presented at The Street Theatre, ‘The Chain Bridge’, although showing writing talent, was marred by too many story lines and lack of clarity in its purpose. ‘The Faithful Servant’ works because it has a clear focus, a really interesting story and an emotional reality that we can relate to completely.
Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘Artcetera’ program on Saturdays from 9am.