|Sam Collingwood as Ruben Guthrie|
Written by Brendan Cowell – Directed by Ryan Street
Set design by Roz Hall and Mike Hall - Sound Design by Ryan
Choreography by Amy
McDonald – Props by Ro McPhee and Annabelle Hansen.
ACT Hub May 25 – 27 : Performance on May 25 reviewed by BILL
This is the first production presented by Wander Theatre at
ACT Hub, and is presented in conjunction with ACT Hub Development. It is
impressive on so many levels.
Premiered at Belvoir Downstairs in 2008, Brendan Cowell’s
play, “Ruben Guthrie” which taps into a deep vein of Australian life. It asks the
question, is it un-Australian to refuse a drink?’ with dialogue that is bleak, uncompromisingly
coarse and often confronting, and as far as this writer is aware, is the first Canberra production of this play.
Though Cowell's characters are each flawed and hardly
admirable, each has a compelling authenticity that makes the dialogue and the responses
of the characters to their situations, immediately recognisable.
The audience is introduced to Ruben Guthrie at an Alcoholics
Anonymous meeting where Guthrie is reluctantly baring his soul.
He shares that he’s 29, the Creative Director of a cutting-edge advertising
agency and engaged to a Czech supermodel. He exalts in being the life of the party.
The story dissolves into a series of flashbacks as the
audience watch the events he is describing. It then continues in real
time as consequences of his responses to various events and characters play
Sam Collingwood plays Ruben Guthrie. He gives a charismatic,
enthralling performance that is so achingly committed and authentic that it’s impossible
not to empathise with the character he has created, while being appalled at his
decisions and actions.
|Grace Fletcher (Zoya) - Sam Collingwood (Ruben Guthrie) - Maxine Eayrs (Virginia)|
in "Ruben Guthrie.
Grace Fletcher plays the supermodel Zoya, attracted by
Guthrie’s charisma, deeply in love with him, but increasingly confused by his irresponsibility
and lack of commitment. Zoya has a rival for Guthrie’s affections in Virginia, played
by Maxine Aeyrs, who sees in Guthrie someone she can mould to achieve her own
ambitions. Virginia is convinced her controlling methods will advantage both their
The third woman in Guthrie’s life is his mother Susan, played
by Adele Lewin. The daughter of an alcoholic and married to another, Susan’s
misguided attempts to save her son from his predicament only exacerbates his problem.
Nor are the three most significant men in his life any more
helpful. His alcoholic father, played by Anthony Mayne, has
difficulty in relating with his son, other than over alcohol.
Guthrie's best friend Damien (Mischa Rippon) is
homosexual and already addicted to alcohol and heroin. Damien encourages Guthrie
to return to their old carousing lifestyle, not out of any concern for Guthrie’s
welfare but to achieve his own goals.
Even Guthrie’s boss Ray,(Richard Manning), himself alcohol
lubricated, sees Guthrie’s talents as relying on drugs and alcohol for its
These characters were all realised with impressive finesse and confidence
by each member of the cast, allowing the audience to become absorbed in the
play rather than distracted by the competence of the actors.
Particularly impressive was the way the actors avoided chasing the laughs. As it happens, despite the seriousness of the
subject matter, there are plenty of laughs in the play, but these actors allowed
any laughs to arise from the situation. Even when sitting on the sidelines,
offstage, the actors maintained concentration, re-acting to the lines in
character, as if they were still part of the on-stage action.
Similarly the quality of Ryan Street’s directing impressed. His
production was staged on the floor of the hub, with the audience seated on
either side of the acting area. Wine racks, cubes and a few key props made up
the simple setting. These racks and cubes were moved around quickly and efficiently by the actors and support staff to create
various locales required by the play. Necessary props were removed or placed in position
by the actors.
This staging proved so effective that it was not until later
that the realisation that Sam Collingwood as Ruben Guthrie had not left the
stage, except at interval, during the entire performance, reacting and
responding to the situations as the setting was changed around him.
|Maxine Eayrs (Virginia) - Sam Collingwood (Ruben Guthrie)|
in "Ruben Guthrie"
The quality of the acting and production for “Ruben Guthrie”
was of such standard to send one searching for the program and information about
Wander Theatre and its members. Maddeningly,
as is becoming increasingly the case, the program was only accessible by QR code. Even then, it proved unhelpful in providing information as to the theatrical backgrounds
of either the actors or the creatives. The Wander Theatre website was no more helpful.
None-the-less, one must be thankful to ACT Hub Development for
bringing Wander Theatre to attention. One looks forward to future discoveries through
Production images by Jeremy Tsuei