Con’s Spire

(XYZ Theatre)



Written by Errol Bray

Judith Wright Centre

The emerge Project for Switchboard Arts

Amateur production

Errol Bray is a very talented writer – witty, well-read, and with an assured control of his material. His latest play, Con’s Spire, shows off all his verbal and theatrical tricks to perfection – or would, if we could understand what the actors are saying.

That’s one problem, I suppose, when playwrights direct their own work, that they aren’t able to step back far enough to see what’s going wrong. For although the show promised “slow singing and fast speaking”, when a concept gets out of hand it can lead the audience mystified. The parts that I did get were very clever indeed, but the pace at which the soliloquies (if I may use an old-fashioned term for a post-modern technique) were delivered left me unsatisfied and frustrated. And I don’t think this was intentional, for I’ve read the program notes explaining the difficulty of getting the mile-a-minute speeches in sync with the physical movement and, with the best will in the world, I can’t say that they’ve achieved it.

This is a great pity, because it’s a work with enormous potential. The punning title, Con’s Spire, allows for verbal word plays about inspire and expire as well, and the play’s central thesis, that live-and-let-live is a concept not understood by the upwardly mobile, is worked out beautifully. Poor sad amiable Con (David Rendall), whose dream to build a huge spire in his backyard is of course doomed to failure, has to contend not only with his gender-confused daughter (Jessamy Ross is a young actor with great stage presence), but with the neighbours from hell, Del and Mike (Nick Dale and Ingrid White seem more intent on their body image than the credibility of their characters). These pushy neighbours come over to complain that Con’s welding machine is spoiling their sybaritic lifestyle, and the usual neighbourhood fight takes on a nasty note, stretching our credulity to the utmost. What finally happens you don’t really need to know, but be assured that all’s not for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

I liked Jazz Miling’s pared-back set, especially the sparks from the welding machine; I was very impressed by the a capella singing; and some of the physical movement (thanks to Ben Cornfoot) was most impressive. And credit must also go to the actors who had their fiendishly rapid speeches (think Gilbert and Sullivan’s patter songs) off pat, and barely missed a beat.

What this play needs is more work – a savage dramaturg, more accomplished actors, and a more objective director. As a finished product it’s nowhere near ready, but as a work in progress it’s quite impressive.

Directed by Errol Bray

Designer Jaz Muhling

Played 27 February – 1 March 2007

Duration : 75 minutes, no interval

– Alison Cotes


— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Mon 26th February 2007)