The Tower is one of the most unusual plays I’ve had the pleasure of watching in a very long time. It’s so unusual that it wasn’t until half way through the play that I recognised it for what it was, a classic gothic melodrama. Which just goes to show that you should always read the program before the lights go down!
What threw me was the setting and the language. Most gothic melodramas, which were written by British playwrights in the 19th century, are set in England and use the language of their period. But this play, although set in the mid 1800s, is very modern in its use of language, and is set in Australia rather than England. The Tower was written by Australian playwright Hal Porter in the 1950s, and watching the play I was struck by the sheer effrontery of the man. Why was he writing a gothic melodrama some 70 years after they had gone out of fashion? Unfortunately for Front Row Theatre, it seemed at first the audience on opening night were just as puzzled as I was. Perhaps we all should have read the program before we went in, for once I got the hang of it I realised just how good a job Front Row has done.
I’m struggling to remain objective about this production, as by the end of the show the solid direction by Anne Lyons, the strong performances from all cast, the simple yet elegant stage setting and terrific score had me completely won over and as I left I wondered why we don’t see more of this kind of theatre on Brisbane stages. In my experience, this play is a one-off, and for that reason alone I encourage you to go see it, for I can almost guarantee that you’ll have a great time.
The story follows the upwardly mobile Sir Rodney Haviland in his relentless pursuit of aristocracy and influence. As the play opens we see his sister Hester, step-daughter Amy, and son Edwin, contemplating his arrival home with his new wife, this one apparently to secure some business arrangements in Sydney. Amy in particular is none too happy about the forthcoming circumstances and we soon learn why, for Amy has been having an affair with Sir Rodney’s man servant, ex-convict Marcus Knight, an affair that if found out could put paid to Sir Rodney’s plans for advancement.
As the tension builds so does the tower that stands at the centre of this play, casting a dark shadow over the events to follow, for Sir Rodney is in the midst of building the tallest tower in Tasmania, all in honour of himself. I won’t give too much more away, for everyone has secrets in this play which is as much about learning whose deceit and trickery will win out as it is about unearthing any great psychological truth.
It’s hard to make special mention of anyone for everyone does such a good job. Rochelle Fisher as Megan, a young Irish maid servant, is particularly good, but so is Steve George as Marcus Knight. The biggest triumph, though, is from composer Lee Crockford, whose ominous score really helps create the darkly gothic world.
The only real problem with the show isn’t with the production but with the space, which tends to swallow the sound, thus making the actors work extra hard to be heard. This problem, however, seems to be impossible to fix, as the building is heritage listed.
The Tower has wide appeal, and the production values are of a high quality, so it’s well worth a visit. But do sit near the front, and read the program before the show.
With this production Front Row have proven themselves to be one of the pre-eminent amateur theatre companies in Brisbane, and I look forward eagerly to their next production.
Directed by Anne Lyons
Playing until 31 March 2006: Fri-Sat 7:30pm, Sun 2:00pm
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval