Ride & Fourplay – The beauty and difficulty of human relationship. (Theatre review)

Ride & Fourplay

Darlinghurst theatre Company till 4 October

You can grab your tickets here.

Images credit: Robert Catto

The impact on our life of technology can’t be denied, but it is particularly prevalent in the speed at which we are forced to move these days. A Chris Rock joke circulating a few months back highlighted the impact of this on relationships. He said “If you’re in a relationship with a woman, and it doesn’t end in a wedding – you have wasted her time. You might have found her a job. You might have cured her diabetes. But if she isn’t married and you break up – you have wasted her time!” No body wants to waste time with the “meaningless” relationship anymore. Jane Bodie wrote Ride and Fourplay in 2000 and 2001, already in the midst of the sped up lifestyle we are currently accepting as inevitable. Each of the plays, though not written as companion pieces, focus on the modern problem of relating in a world where ambition and personal happiness carries greater importance than values such as loyalty and patience. If the task of literature is to work on the problem of accurately describing our lives, then Jane Bodie includes memory and the sublimation of desire – some of the few aspects of life that are not constantly documented in our current world – as still central to the experience of being human in an agenda driven world.

This idea of writing down the experience exists in the way Jane Bodie hovers over the two plays. Director Anothny Skuse highlights this through a minimalist backdrop and a tilted stage that disorients the external action in favour of revealing the unsettled. In his program notes, he refers to this as  displaying a vertigo inevitably experienced by the individual navigating complex emotional terrain. And yet over the top of his stage and his performers is the writer documenting a solidity into the ephemeral. Life is so like this now. Everything is documented via the internet, and we are left with the double negation of our personhood through the oddity of immediate experience and the falsity in the documenting of our lives as fact. Are we are Facebook profiles? Are we our shopping habits? Are we our political opinions? Our drinking habits?  Are we the person we wake up next to? All these pieces of who we are, sit in a massive anthropological organisation stored in the air we breathe and the wireless canyon that seems to be constantly expanding and contracting between us. Jane Bodie takes very real human situations – in Ride its the morning after the one night stand, and in Fourplay its the negotiation and renegotiation of a key relationship – and imposes her organised, lilting language over them, so they transmute away from their “reality” or “truth” and concentrate on the notion of being human when face to face with that most feared creature – another human whose judgment and assessment of us we cannot control.

This makes for deeply beautiful theatre. Theatre that engages, provokes intimacy and beauty within relationships. It’s the kind of double bill you want to see after an intimate meal with a lover, or attend with a good friend. Both plays under Anthony Skuse’s direction concentrate entirely on the language and the performances, so that the experiences are nuanced, delicate while pounding home the unsettling power deep relating inspires. I am an emotional optimist, despite a relationship track record that can be read in a multitude of ways, so for me the plays were celebrations of the beauty unique to human creatures who have devised language as a means to enhance our experience of each other. They are hopeful and expectant despite the increasing difficulty of relating. Particularly in Fourplay (which reminded me very much of Samuel Beckett’s Quad) in which Skuse removes all set distractions and leaves the performers with their language which they direct into the audience. This is a clever device in the age of social media.

With two Jane Bodie plays back to back, this is a long night of provocative theatre. The performances are very beautiful with a high energy that manage to retain focus and concentration for an audience getting too comfortable in those lovely Eternity Playhouse seats. All four performances are mesmerizing. Each and every character is properly and thoroughly explored, and revealed to the audience with an engaged and certain confidence. Christopher Page and Alistair Wallace keep light and sound delicate and caressing, even when Wallace brings the sounds of planes flying over Tempe – such a very Sydney sound. The atmospheric elements are consistently in line with the focus on the internal world just as Simon Boyds tilted set constantly threatens to topple its characters every moment they attempt an emotional foothold. This is gentle theatre, particularly as it deals with such dangerous topics. A powerful experience to share with the person in your life that touches you deeply.

Ride and Fourplay are on at The Eternity Playhouse until 4 October. You can grab tickets here.