Retail pulls off an amazing array of theatrical difficulties, revelling in the size of its cast, the chamber-like echo of the space, and the gawking presence of an unsuspecting public just outside of the action.
Retail is set in two fashion boutiques located across the road from each other. There is the bridal store run by the matriarchal Anna (Milijana Čančar), assisted by the terminally used and frustrated Jennifer (Emma Fawcett). Across the way are the trio of good time girls that run Tony’s boutique (Lisa Infante, Kristy Barnes-Cullen and Kimberly Stark), and in between travels Bernadette (Sonya Kerr), Guy (James Deeth) and Rob (Mark E. Lawrence), moving between circumstances for reasons that only gradually make themselves clear. Adding to the orbit of characters are nervous fiancées (Steph Hutchison, Claire McArdle), mamma’s boys (Carl J. Sorheim) and customers out of their depth (Tristan Watson). The links between these characters are explored over two days, the seedy side of their situations gradually revealed, culminating in a dramatic conclusion.
A cast of twelve in such as space would seem at first to be madness, how do you not swamp the set? But I only realised the size of the ensemble when they came out at the end, my finger tracing each head, remembering and counting their place in the story. That Thompson has melded this ensemble into having the discipline of a netball team is amazing, with transitions having an amazing level of fluidity.
There was a massive amount required of the performance, both physical and technical: four separate entrance points, exterior miked scenes, a space of concrete to project over, a fully visible audience, multiple characters for some actors, and members of the public trying to figure out what the hell is going on from the outside. Also there was a dance sequence, something I usually loathe but this time really enjoyed. But all were handled with such casual grace that you were enthralled in every moment, whether it was to do with the actual story line on stage or the fluidity of the production.
Jane E. Thompson is a director who understands that theatre is theatre and not film and not television. An obvious statement you say, but something that needs some serious attention in Melbourne. The audience is not a fixed gaze, it is not a camera, no matter how some would like it to be so. A production cannot force the crowd to only see what it wants to see. Even in the most pristine play the eye wanders, it takes in the surrounding stuff of a production. So you have two choices, awkwardly try and disguise it, punish the audience for looking at all, or say to the audience, yes, I understand, this transition too makes up what the play is. It gave an energy to the characters that I have not seen for some time. You could believe that if a member of the public did happen to walk in, that none of the actors would even consider breaking character, instead incorporating it into the show.
The most engaging substance of this play was an understanding of the word production, a play of many parts, where, when the threads are pulled together, something great can be made.
Retail Plays at No Vacancy Gallery
Address: Jane Bell Lane, Melbourne, Melbourne, 3000
Date: Friday 2nd October, 8:00pm to Friday 2nd October, 8:00pm
Tickets: $15:Concession $25:Ful
30th Sept- 4th Oct, 7th -11th Oct @ 8pm
Sat 3rd & Sat 10th Oct @ 2pm