Theatre review: The Gift

By Janet McAllister

1 comment

Engaging but puzzling drama explores morality and the consequences as opposites attract.

Laura Hill and Simon London play their relatively straight roles professionally and competently. Photo / Supplied
Laura Hill and Simon London play their relatively straight roles professionally and competently. Photo / Supplied

This inoffensive Auckland Theatre Company production is a conversation drama which builds to a Big Reveal, about an odd couple of couples: an older wealthy businessman and the wife who "facilitated his glory", and a younger, hipper, poorer artist and his art-journalist wife.

To a certain extent, it is about morality and, ostensibly, parenting, but only the last third touches on these issues. The play is more focused on the developing inter-couple relationship, and the dangers of opposites attracting.

The couples claim almost a spiritual connection, declaring, "We feel as if you were sent to us", and promise to speak only the truth to each other.

When differences of opinion show up, Sadie (a sympathetic Sarah Peirse) reminds her more impatient husband, "They're not like us; that's why we like them." Aye, there's the rub.

Their conversation is interesting enough, even the glib, rather cliched posturing about art and artists.

Some is serious - artists are "at the mercy of someone else's tastes" - and some is amusing - "We like art ... we both love the Impressionists," says Sadie to the "conceptual" artist (Simon London).

Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, a chronicler of the affluent middle-class (Honour, Female of the Species), writes dialogue with good rhythm, occasional witticisms and a fondness for aphorisms.

However, the play prefers telling to showing, and if subtle social commentary or irony lurks behind the dinner party pleasantries (not a given), it falls flat.

Once the younger couple have made their outrageous demand, the set-up would be better served by broad comedy and satire, for which it's easier to suspend disbelief.

The characters are all relatively straight roles played competently and professionally; no scenery-chewing or flamboyance here.

Instead of changing their clothes to show the passing of a year, the actors simply throw on blazers over their old duds.

The chunky turquoise abstract-yacht set feels luxurious but rather anonymous, and banks of screens show mawkish images at the end.

Diverting if baffling.

What: The Gift, Auckland Theatre Company
When: Until October 6
Where: Maidment Theatre

- NZ Herald

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