The Dressing Chair

(Brisbane Arts Theatre)


By Nigel Munro-Wallis

Amateur production

Darren Kruck’s is not yet a name on Brisbane’s theatrical lips, but if this performance is anything to go by, he has a great deal of talent and, with the right parts, may very well be somebody to watch.

A one-hander is always a challenge for an actor, especially if there is more than one part to play, and in Nigel Munro-Wallis’s gentle little play he has five roles and five of Brisbane’s historical periods to cover, ranging from 1919 to 2005, and featuring a returned WWI soldier, an American GI over here during the notorious Battle of Brisbane in 1943 (“overpaid, over-sexed and over here”), a young man in 1975 torn between his duty to look after his mentally-retarded brother and his need to live his own life, a student at the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Educatioin in 1989, and a high-camp antique dealer in our own day.

It’s a big ask for a young actor, and inevitably Kruck is better in some roles than in others. He’s very good indeed as the ethically-torn brother and the university student, quite good as the returned soldier and the American GI, and completely over-the-top as the antique dealer. This kind of caricature we can do without, although I feel that playwright director Nigel Munro-Wallace also has much to answer for here, for letting the actor get away with it. It points up the need for an external objective eye in a director, and that no playwright should direct his or her own play.

What all this suggests is that, like many young actors, Kruck is better at playing roles close to his own age, which is no reflection on his undoubted talent. It’s just that too much was asked of him here.

The play itself is a gentle piece of nostalgic reminiscence, centred on a unique piece of furniture and five of its owners. The dressing chair was made (I may be wrong here, as I missed the first ten minutes falling up the stairs and breaking my wrist no sympathy cards, please, but chocolates are always welcome) for a young woman at the turn of the century, and as it passes from owner to owner and moves further away from its origins, it takes on an increasingly mysterious value, and in so doing says something about the power of the unknown past to fascinate later generations.

It’s a useful theatrical device for bringing together five very disparate stories, and although the play doesn’t have any big major statement to make, it captures very well a range of moods, historical periods and types of men, some of whom you wouldn’t expect to have any sentimentality at all.

There are other theatrical devices, most notably an anthology of Elizabethan love poems, which turns up in every scene and counterpoints the mood and the situation of each of the characters and his situation. It’s a device that could seem very strained, but Munro-Wallace weaves it so skilfully into each narrative so that its appearance never jars.

This isn’t a play that is going to change the world, but it’s a nicely-crafted script with a more-than-competent actor, and for a evening at the theatre that brings back memories and makes you think, but isn’t too emotionally or intellectually challenging, it’s something that should appeal to anyone with a sense of Brisbane’s history and a love of the past.

Directed by Nigel Munro-Wallace

Early week production, playing Sunday – Wednesday until Tuesday 27 September 2005 at 7.30pm (Sundays at 6pm)

Running time: 70 minutes, no interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Mon 12th September 2005)