Diving for Pearls – Katherine Thomson and the false free. (Theatre Review)

Diving for Pearls

8 September to 28 October 2017

SBW Stables Theatre, produced by Griffin Theatre Company

You can grab your tickets here

What is it precisely that Barbra wants? When we witness Katherine Thomson’s great play, Diving For Pearls, the shocking truth of Barbara is exposed and we realise there is no need to distinguish here between producing and its product. We can see, as can Barbra, that the mere “thisness” of the object produced is carried over into a new act of producing. The rule of continually producing production, or grafting producing onto the product, is a characteristic of designing machines or of primary production: the production of production. Just as Willie Loman will kill himself for insurance money, Barbara will only live to produce.

One of the great themes of Diving for Pearls is the death of the brief utopic dream of the 1960’s exemplified in the right to work. As writer Katherine Thomson implies the crashing realization of the 1980’s was that we now have to make our own work. The employee is weak and exposed. Barbra knows this, and is willing to become the production line of her own product – but what happens to desire? Her only hope is to relinquish love (of man and child) and agree to become the production line and product. For Den, remaining an employee is to continue in desire. He can stand the humiliations of a virtual servitude on behalf of wife, child, house and home. But Den is mute in the realization of his desire, as his tragedy unfolds we see a character forged from Nietzsche’s The Antichrist; a man who believes in a security that amounts to being lost in the herd and defined in terms of common and external goals. It is hopeless to think in terms of security – there is none. Even Den’s home isn’t safe.

With Katherine Thomson’s great protagonist and her lover, we see a virtual economy of flows. The flows and productions of desire will simply be viewed as the unconscious of the social productions. Behind every investment of time and interest and capital, an investment of desire and vice versa. Trained to see themselves as the key (she alone, he in the collective) they are taught to see the figure of Man behind every social event, just as Christianity taught us to see The Eye of The Lord looking down upon us. This form of examining their reality comes at the expense of reality itself, and includes a failure on the part of each character to see. All the characters of Diving for Pearls talk about figures, and icons and signs but fail to perceive forces and flows. They are blind to other realities, especially the reality of power as it subjugates them. Even as Barbra seeks to break free, she embraces a course whose function is to tame her, and the result is the fabrication of a docile and obedient subject; A process Den undergoes himself, in order source his own salvation. Barbra will break free, choose fight and flight and pay the consequence; but Den cannot. We watch in horror as Barbra and Den are (to use Freudian terms) oedipalized and neuroticized at home, at school and at work. This Oedipus of analytical and political forces is belief injected into the unconscious; it is what gives us faith as it robs us of power, it is what teaches us to desire our own repression. In the end everybody in Diving for Pearls wants to be a fascist. The horror we see played out, is that they each successfully become one.

As Henry Miller said, “Reality is here and now, everywhere, gleaming through every reflection that meets the eye… Everybody is a neurotic, down to the last man and woman. The healer, or the analyst, if you like, is only a super-neurotic. … To be cured we must rise from our graves and throw off the cerements of the dead. Nobody can do it for another – it is a private affair which is best done collectively.” (Sexus) Only in the forgetting about their egos can a non-neurotic form of politics become possible for Barbra and Den, where singularity and collectivity are no longer at odds with each other, and where collective expressions of desire are possible. Barbra and Den’s goal should have been the transformation of human relationships in a struggle against power. Our current brand of social/anarchic capitalism insists on product and process, stamping its analytic lens on the ever-decreasing steps to total mechanization and commodification of the human individual. Barbra and Den are the perfectly drawn characters they are because, god save us, we see ourselves in them – even though we have no right to. But we understand how product and process are becoming one inside each of us, because this we live in our own way each day.

Diving For Pearls currently showing at the SBW Stables Theatre as produced by Griffin Theatre Company is one of those remarkable theatre experiences that finds its pulse deep inside the soul of an audience. The current production is powerfully directed by Darren Yap who, along with set designer James Browne and lighting designer Benjamin Brockman make some of the best use of the small (awkward) Stables stage ever seen. Movement around the set is remarkably comfortable as an entire steel works converts to a hill, a lady’s bedroom, and a festive backyard.

Still, as thrilling to experience the set and creative design around the production is, the performances of a truly marvelous script are the true gem’s of Diving for Pearls. All the performances are wonderful, from Michelle Doake’s chilling Marj (and we ALL know one of these women) through to Jack Finsterer’s well-meaning Ron, the cast bring the beautifully written play to vibrant life. Ebony Vagulans is a joyful and complicated stage presence, doing deep justice to her difficult role. Steve Rodgers is a warm, kind and beautifully tragic Den, a character we need to connect with deeply. However, the casts standout is the remarkably talented Ursula Yovich as Barbara. This is one of those truly fine performances that stir deep in the soul, that you will talk about for years to come.

Diving for Pearls is an Australian classic. This performance at The Stables Theatre gives an audience every opportunity to understand why.


Please note: this review was written heavily under the influence of Anti-Oedipus: Captialism and Schizophrenia by  Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Grab your copy here.