The Maintenance Room – Gerry Greenland and the question of trust. (Theatre Review)

“Something in us wishes to remain a child, to be unconscious or, at most, conscious only of the ego; to reject everything strange, or else subject it to our will; to do nothing, or else indulge our own craving for pleasure or power.”

— Carl Jung, The Structures & Dynamics of the Psyche

“I was standing on the edge of the abyss that separates the present from the future.”

-Vincent, in The Maintenance Room

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It’s a brave writer that takes on the question of “trust”; “trust” is a concept each person feels they might be an expert on, and must have a deeply personal interpretation of. This makes trust complicated, because its definition is vague, at least in the deep sense. I trust you, because you are trustworthy. However, the definition of trust and its relevant actions are entirely at my discretion, as is your label as “worthy” of my trust. We run a great risk when we trust someone else, because to a certain degree we are opening ourselves up to a vulnerability that can never be met, and yet to be trusted is equally a dangerous concept, because you may unwittingly be responsible for more than you can comprehend or possibly fulfil. In such a vague and subjective agreement, we place a tremendous power to be let down, to the point of a darkness that can obliterate our personhood and lead to self annihilation, as Gerry Greenland has observed.

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In fact, it may not be the loss of trust that is the real issue, but the loss of the optimism surrounding trust that is crucial to an individual’s equilibrium. An example here, is the parent who lends their car to a teenager trusting they will care for the car and their own wellbeing. If the teenager has an accident, the parent won’t see it as a betrayal, because trust was given in optimism and hope, a kind of projection of a future agreement, rather than the likelihood of trustworthiness. In this scenario, the trusting creates the trustworthy and an optimistic hope for the future remains. This is in stark contrast to, for example, the kind of death of optimism that occurs when a spouse betrays the trust of their partner through infidelity.

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It is these complex issues Gerry Greenland wants the audience to consider during his play, The Maintenance Room. Edward is a man who stands at the precipice of losing everything. As if to dramatically enact his personal downfall, he enters an old factory, makes his way to the very top (the maintenance room) and prepares to jump to his death. As he contemplates his leap into the abyss, Vincent, a vagrant currently occupying the maintenance room, catches him and talks Edward into delaying his jump. Familiar with Jungian psychoanalysis and eastern philosophies, Vincent uses certain actions – literally acting out – to take Edward by the hand and walk him through what Jung called a “stage of life”, where an individual will travel from despair and fear of losing all they cling to embracing an unknown future that will see them grow and change. However, as Edward grapples with his darkest demons, he and the audience come to realise Vincent has his own journey to make, and Edward may be the catalyst for that.

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In Jungian psychoanalysis, a “higher consciousness” is not perpetuated by “nature” or our natural instincts, rather by problems we place ourselves in that devastate our consciousness and force us to leave what has previously made us comfortable.  For Jung, this is the development from the child (a reliance on “nature” and a “natural” order) to the adult world, where we battle our own psyche’s. It is this moment that Edward is facing and trying to flee, and we will discover, it is this moment that Vincent has been toying at the edges of for many years. In this way Gerry Greenland paints a disturbing picture of what “this moment” (and we will all face it or not in our lives) can do to those who are too afraid to confront it, or perhaps worse, face it but do not act.

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The Maintenance Room is the devastating tale of the precise moment two men facing this abyss collide.  Allan Walpole, as director and set designer, has boxed these two characters into a small but detailed vision of The Maintenance Room as an object, demanding the characters spin their way through the universe in a perversely small and cluttered space. The Maintenance Room itself is a different place for the two men; it is a home and freedom for Vincent while it is filthy and the gateway to hell for Edward. Christine Greenough and Allan Walpole shuffle the characters around so that we are given the emotional contact with a large amount of space even as the maintenance room is so claustrophobic.

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However, it is the actors that bring Greenland’s words to life in this production currently showing at the King Street Theatre. Kim Knuckey is an absent and lonely Edward, a man who constantly appears to have lost a sense of who he is. He will undergo an enormous transformation on the stage, and it is to Knuckey’s credit that we never doubt it for a second. Lynden Jones is the irrepressibly optimistic Vincent, a man teetering on the edge of sanity, too bright for his own courage and too lonely for his bubbling cheer. Jones gives us a tragic Vincent, a contemporary descendant of a Shakespearean fool trying to seduce his Lear out of madness.

This lovely little production is on at the King Street Theater until November 30.

You can grab your tickets here.

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