A man with five Children – Nick Enright questions selfies and 7-Up. (theatre review)
A Man With Five Children
Darlinghurst Theatre Company
Eternity Playhouse June 3 – June 26 You can grab your tickets here.
Images Helen White
Rather than documenting our present, it can be argued that filming and photography is an action resulting in a distancing from our present. The camera provides enough distance so we can gaze on other peoples reality with curiosity, with detachment, with professionalism. The omnipresent photographer acts as if their activity transcends class interests, as if its perspective is universal. It’s a kind of immediate nostalgia separating photographer and observer from the moment and the tedious exercise of evaluating and acting upon events. The horror of this reality was never more perfectly expressed than in march 1993 when Kevin Carter took a photograph of a starving Sudanese girl trying to make her way to a food camp being stalked by a vulture. Hundreds of people contacted The New York Times to find out if the little girl made it to the food camp and ask why Carter was taking a photograph when he should have taken action to save the girl. The camera is never passive, but it gives the illusion of detachment and passivity, even today with the proliferation of selfies and photos on social media. It is for good reason the camera has regularly been described as a penis extension. According to Nick Enright, it is an intrusive force that shapes and manipulates its subject. He wrote A Man With Five Children in the wake of the 7-Up series, a series of films about which he has grave doubts. Rather than convert the filmed into an omnipresent subject, it inflicts a kind of tourist mentality on the Real, forcing people to act when the film purports to capture them as they really are.
Strangely, the point and purpose of the 7-Up series was for us to examine the role of social structures in the making of the individual, but 7-Up through Enright’s eyes, turns out to be so much more. Nick Enright begins A Man With Five Children in 1972, when issues of cultural identity were challenging but being met with open-mindedness and joy. Nick Enright equally immerses his play in the times of the golden age of Australian immigration, when people from other countries were seen as an opportunity for Australia, and diversity was encouraged. Over time, particularly through the divisive Howard Years, this changes and Australians’ become hostile toward our immigrant siblings. As Gerry (Jeremy Waters) films his subjects his intentions are for these societal complexities to be revealed through the lives of the children.
And yet, just as Jackie, an unemployed single mother of three who grew up in the East end of London criticizes Apted for his decades of underestimating her, we see Enright castigating Apted through Gerry for his god like imposition on the lives of these five children and their satellite relationships. The 7-Up series have been called the birth of social media, but there are no selfies, no true understanding of what the kids were getting themselves into, and many declarations that this is the last time they will take part. In A Man With Five Children, Enright turns the camera back on the film maker and examines his motivations and his own ability to deal with the presence he has inflicted upon the children he pretends to impartially observe. Eventually it is enormous televised creations of these children that become the driving force in declaring subjectivity, rather than free will.
As A Man With Five Children goes through its paces, enormous projections of the children at various ages stand over the stage action bringing the criticisms of Enright to the fore. A talented creative team come together behind Tim Hopes AV design to use the images in alignment with the action on the stage as Anthony Skuse’s direction interweaves the live action with the audio visual blurring the lines between action and projection, fact and fiction. At times we lose track ourselves of exact age brackets and time frames we are experiencing the children getting a strong sense of the way the projected image impacts on the lives being played out on the stage. The large images of the cast stand at the back of the beautiful Darlinghurst Theatre and impose themselves over the production and the audience encouraging this complicated response to the enormity of the filmed subject. The cast are all strong, tightly directed and fully engaged with their character. This applies particularly to Jeremy Waters who is on stage for the bulk of the production, whose face manages to age under the cameras gaze. It’s a remarkable physical and psychological performance that captures the audience even as we go through our multiple responses to his flawed character.
A Man With Five Children is another great production in the 2016 Sydney calendar. Be sure to catch it and get to know this great Australian writer a little better.