Dark Voyager opened at the Pavilion Theatre in Castle Hill on Friday the 5th of April. It is a nostalgic experience of theatre as it once was and a vessel for time travel. The show convincingly took us back to an era of glamour and sensation in old Hollywood and delivered a cheekily twisted portrayal of icons of the 60’s.
As I entered the proscenium arch theatre, I realised how I do not often see shows that are played in so traditional a space. The set design, with its familiar retro dressings, indicated clearly and without doing too much where and when I was. It was a very definite and telling first impression. The performers filled up the spaces on stage with exciting energy and enthusiasm. They were bursting with stage presence and charisma. I particularly enjoyed the campy bitterness of Faith Jessel as Bette Davis. The performers sold me pretty quickly on the fact that we were in California and faltered not in their American-ness in performance. This made for a transporting and consistent experience.
The show was truly a laugh. With the female characters all possessing a sharp quality, the zings were frequent and gnarly. The dialogue was vibrantly clever and comically successful. With the duration of the show being on the longer side, the attention through the first act was well maintained through great bouts of physicality and slapstick humour. The moments where people were thrown around stage really lifted the pace of the show and were my favourite ones.
While I was having fun with the veneer of the show and its execution, I cannot express any enthusiasm towards the text itself and what it had to say. The first act was light hearted and enjoyable but when I returned from intermission the tone seemed to have shifted. Suddenly the play spoke to the experience of being female at the time, in a way that was particularly serving to the male gaze. At one point Marilyn Monroe, who’s portrayal by Jacqui Wilson I thought was delicately hilarious and of great contrast to the elder characters, asked with sadness why a male character hadn’t raped her when he found her unconscious and naked at home. She took this as, unbelievably enough, a fact to be upset about and began to stir up and cry that she wasn’t beautiful because of it. In another moment Bette Davis claimed “Every woman dies twice. The first time is when she learns her looks have gone forever”. These were moments that could have been saved by ironic execution or any demonstration of awareness of how this is to effect a female audience.
While it can be said that this piece of theatre is about another time, when “political correctness” wasn’t so much considered, I would, however, argue that if we want to make theatre that makes a modern audience feel good, then hurtful ideas shouldn’t be carted through to the present without any scrutiny. I could have left the show feeling the buzz of a lighthearted treat of a night out, because the rest of the show was a fun time, but I was rather feeling a little disheartened by the callous treatment of women in a production that is so centered around and involving them.
Despite my reservations about the script and subject matter, I enjoyed the most part of the show. The enthusiasm of the cast was refreshing and contagious. There was great energy in the air. I enjoyed the twisted caricatures of iconic stars and the nostalgia that it allowed. The audience around me was spirited and pleased about the night out they had spent at the theatre and I appreciate the time honoured experience that it created. Theatre like this is a treat.
Director: Annette van Roden
Featuring: Annette Emerton, Adam Garden, Faith Jessel, Leigh Scanlon and Jacqui Wilson