Van De Maar Papers – Ratcatch bring the Grand Narrative back. (Theatre Review)

Van De Maar Papers

Ratcatch and the Old 505 Theatre

9 – 20 July. You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Clare Hawley

In Alexander Lee-Rekers artistic universe, the motivations and drives of each becomes irrevocably linked to the motivation and drive of all. Motivation and drive themselves stem from a kind of suffering, a giving up on behalf of, but each of his four main characters feel they ‘deserve a reward’ at some level for their suffering. However, each discovers they are part of unbounded relationships which penetrate their personalities, and these relationships interfere with their ability to realise the tragedy of solitary pride in the face of the healing power of communion. Despite Frank Van De Maars (Simon Thompson) attempts at self-segregation, his every step is ultimately linked to the lives of other people. The world from which he tries to escape is not an impersonal, abstract setting that can be thought away; it is populated by people whose vivid, palpable presence constantly disturbs his illusion of self-sufficiency. While Frank may dismiss feelings for his family as, let them devour each other, what is it to me? he is nonetheless moved by Christine’s predicament. While he wishes for separateness and independence, he continues to live on Van De Maar money and fears for his survival in the face of the threat of its removal. Christine (Lucy Miller) also claims to have a Kantian rationalist-autonomous ethics, acting severely according to her own responsibilities and refusing to be moved by another when they fail in their own. Yet, she is sympathetic toward Frank and feels warmly toward him, including supporting him in his failed project for years. Her position of rationality and volition as the foundation of her ethics clashes inside with a way of loving understanding despite a clash of rational arguments.

For the four primary characters of Van De Maar Papers a perpetual tension exists between the bipolar opposition of the individual and the social. This manifests in communication. Each character has an individual drive (what the Van De Maars might call a mountain to climb) but the very being of an individual is the deepest communion. To be means to communicate. Absolute death is the state of being unheard, unrecognized, unremembered. An individual can only exist inside a community, for that is what defines the individual. Therefore, in Alexander Lee-Rekers universe, to act socially is to assert one’s individuality and individuality can only be asserted inside a community. This problem comes to the fore in the final contention of Sarah Fuller (Nathalie Murray) who tries to do the right thing, but can’t hep furthering her own cause inside that effort. Christine may have betrayed her dead husband, but she carefully and thoroughly preserved the Van De Maar Name. Frank may have played the lackey for Christine, but he succeeds in not having to find work inside the company he is trying to flee. Finally, Ron Huck (Terry Serio) may be seeking financial success but he can’t help trying to get Sarah a name of her own.

Inside this intense dichotomy that properly and fully expresses the ultimate paradox of essential humanity, Alexander Lee-Rekers presents an empirical community that (like all our own) falls very short of the ideal. His characters misinterpret or destroy their relationships; they are sometimes hostile or indifferent to one another; they suffer from self-conceit or submissiveness. Inside these tensions, Alexander Lee-Rekers brilliantly portrays the human craving for individuality to the point of hysteria inside the overwhelming need for togetherness.

Van De Maar Papers is a tremendous work that encompasses the lost art of the grand narrative in a world weary with the post-modern anxiety that prevents us from saying anything other than our own point of view as defined by restrictive social conventions. It is joyful to see a young writer experimenting with enormous themes in a long complex play that is exciting through every minute we are lucky enough to sit before it. Philosophically it is complex – one of those plays where no one wins, everyone is good and everyone is bad – but the depth is tempered with a unique and playful sense of humour and a stylishly modern formation of Attendants playing at being a Greek Chorus of Van De Maars. It is the positing of this fluid movement of the small group against the rigid social structures and conformities of the main cast by director Camilla Turnbull that give Van De Maar Papers its unique voice and strengthen the overall joy of the performance.

Most of all however, it is the performances that Camilla Turnbull evokes in her enormously strong cast that give this production the proper weight and gravity that it deserves. With an (as always) outstanding performance from Lucy Miller as Christine Van De Maar as the lynch pin for the play’s moral and philosophical trajectory, the tone is set for the rest of the cast to bring their various charismatic energies to their roles. Terry Serio sets a comic underline for the production and presents his character almost as the much welcome light relief to the enormous presence that is Lucy Miller. The pair of them pulse with star-power under a director who understands their contribution and a script that properly gives them enough punch to gift us such great performances. Along side the pair Simon Thomson as Frank Van De Maar and Nathalie Murray as Sarah Fuller hold their own with strength and provide convincing opposites to strengthen the overall performance. The small ensemble of Melissa Hume, Jessie Lancaster, Tom Matthews and Sophie Strykowski are all different yet compelling in their movement and style and form a thrilling connection for the audience that brings the production to vibrant life.

A duel stage forms an interesting design addition from Damien Egan who works well with Sophie Pekbilimli on lights. A small additional point, large sections of one characters erotic writing is read from the stage, and these readings form a highlight of the production. The erotica is beautifully written and a joy to listen to.

Van De Maar Papers is a unique theater experience for Sydney audiences and a wonderful way to spend your hard-earned dollars and a joyful night. It’s tremendous in scope, energetically directed and gives much exciting food for thought. Highly recommended.