Middle Age Spread
By Roger Hall
Wanganui Repertory Theatre
Directed by Kerry Girdwood
By Aaron Potaka
Roger Hall's play Middle Age Spread (1977) at Wanganui Repertory is an examination of clash between the marriage institution and human frailty, and compliments his playwriting workshop on October 6 at this year's Whanganui Literary Festival.
As three couples dine one night a la chez Colin and Elizabeth, their little soiree goes to some very dark places.
Mr Hall's observations of the dynamics of the mid-1970s marriage will be at odds with some views 40 years later.
In the context of more "modern" relationships of de facto, friends with benefits, civil union et al, Middle Age Spread will resonate differently between baby boomers and Generation X and those younger. But questions he raises about respect, loyalty, and commitment are still relevant.
Phil Hudson and Cathy Gribble play hosts Colin, a newly promoted school principal, and his wife Elizabeth, with their guests, teachers' college tutor Reg and wife Isobel, played by Glenn Cameron and Bridget Hurley; and Judith, a teacher at Colin's school (Karen Hughes), and her accountant husband Robert (Carey Knapp).
The audience relies on 10 scenes across four set changes to gather the situational awareness that underlines Mr Hall's time-warp of plotting.
A countdown to meltdown begins at the dinner party that is the contemporary reference for the audience to flashback and forward to, watching as Colin and Judith embark on a short-lived affair and ergo the corresponding downward spirals of their respective marriages.
The stage management by Brie Parkinson and her team busily pull of that tricky aspect of the play between jumps from dinner table to sitting room to bedsit to bedroom to bedsit and back around to the dinner table for the grand finale.
Director Kerry Girdwood squeezes every last ounce of baggage that each character brings to this story.
Hudson performs with an air of disillusionment that conveys the doubts and what-ifs of Colin's mid-life crisis. The easiest gig is for Cameron playing Reg as the nasty misogynist and general bore.
The allusion to off-stage character Jane, eldest daughter of Colin and Elizabeth, is the device that dials up the climax. As the party winds down towards coffee, the lounge becomes a free fire zone as the diners unload bombshells on one another with devastating impacts.
Surprisingly, amid the breakdowns and make-ups, the hero of the piece is certainly not who it seems.
Billed as comedy, Middle Age Spread is a quiet suburban psycho-drama in disguise, with emotions and principles rattled by a series of slow-motion train crashes. This is not a play for the nervous of moral disposition.
Upcoming performances: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, from 7pm. Ticket sales at Wanganui Royal Opera House.