Belvoir St: The Power of Yes

How does that old saying go? “What would you do if everyone said yes?” While that might be a great hypothetical question to pose to a friend who can’t decide what the hell to do with their life, it seems that someone should have warned the world’s bankers that such an ‘airy fairy’ positive construct should in no way be applied to them. Perhaps, instead, someone could have suggested that a more appropriate motto for the people who held the planet’s purse strings to live by would be: “no means no.” Maybe then we could have avoided the calamity of August 2007 when the world’s financial institutions went into meltdown due to the subprime collapse that burst the liquidity “bubble”.Of course, I’m not claiming to be an expert in such matters, in fact, until recently if you’d asked this reviewer to tell you anything even vaguely financial the silence would have been deafening. However, that was all before I saw David Hare’snew play The Power of Yes, and now I can’t shut up about it. For not only does this intelligent finely crafted piece of theatre make the global financial crisis intelligible, it also makes finance – dare I say it – fun! And that is obviously no easy feat. Part of the genius of Hare’s text is his choice to locate himself within it as a character who’s a writer that’s seeking to research the financial crisis in order to write a play about it. In this he offers the audience a conduit through which all the information can pass in a manner that is entertaining and accessible. Throughout the course of this fast-paced and ferociously witty piece the playwright is circled by a competing series of financial heavy weights, characters that attempt to tell him the “story” of what went wrong. Thanks to the use of clever metaphors to explain concepts such as securitised credit: “you stub your toe and your elbow hurts” and the whole system of banks around the world holding each others bonds like cards in a game of Cluedo, the whole affair unfolds like a lively comedy heist filled with colourful characters who are all chasing that elusive big bag of cash.

Featuring a flawless cast including Rhys Muldoon, Marshall Napier, Christopher Stollery, Graham Rouse andLuke Mullins among others, who all talk the talk and walk the walk like bona fide bankers across a stage that’s strewn with multi-coloured balloons that have all been burst like the proverbial bubble, this is an exceptional production that’s also a hoot. The groovy jazz soundtrack (Steve Francis) and inspired stage design (Dale Ferguson) which includes a stage within a stage that’s viewed through a window which also acts as a whiteboard, combine to give this production a slick and polished feel that keep the audience’s imagination constantly engaged for the duration of this one-act marvel. The use too of inflated balloons in the play as props provides an inspired and playful way to illustrate the buoyant and upbeat attitudes of the times that led to the reckless actions of so many of the players involved in the markets’ undoing.

Forget all the dry, dull and confusing ideas you may have about finance, catch The Power Of Yes and you are guaranteed to come away buzzing with a new understanding that in the very least is sure to provide fertile fodder for your next meeting with your local bank manager.

Company B Belvoir presents
The Power of Yes
by David Hare

Directed by Sam Strong

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre, Upstairs Theatre | 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 17 Apr – 30 May, 2010
Times: Tue 6.30pm; Wed-Fri 8pm; Sat 2pm & 8pm; Sun 5pm.
Tickets: $35.00 – $57.00
Bookings: 02 9699 3444 | 


This review first appeared on Australian Stage April 2010

Belvoir St: The End

Robert Menzies Photography Heidrun Löhr

The American filmmaker Woody Allen once lamented: “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.” He wasn’t having a beer with Samuel Beckett at the time, but if he had been the Irish playwright would have no doubt grinned and agreed with him. Because that’s the absurdity of the human condition that Beckett so brilliantly illuminates. We are born, we live, we breathe, we bitch and moan about it, and then we die.

In The End – Beckett’s 22-page novella that is here adapted in its entirety for the stage – his lone male narrator is as downtrodden as they come. We may not know much about him, but we can be sure of one thing, and that is that life has already given up on him. The local charity organization certainly has, they won’t even let him shelter in the cloister for much longer than the rain lasts. And then he’s forced to rent the only lodgings he can find, a squalid basement devoid of natural light, where his only pleasure is looking up the skirts of the women passing by. Later, he finds momentary salvation with a Hermit in a cave by the coast where fish and shelter are plentiful. However, this fleeting promise of paradise is not to be – he can’t stand the sea! Of course, things get worse, as you’d know doubt expect, after all it is Beckett. The narrative follows the sad, and often perversely funny ramblings of this poor soul as he marches ever onward from the embrace of despair into the arms of death.

The extraordinary Robert Menzies, an actor of the highest calibre, brings this incredibly challenging material to the stage in a 65-minute monologue that’s as intense and tightly wound as a mousetrap. Without the usual distractions provided by an elaborate set and high-tech sound wizardry the opening-night audience were captivated, unable to look away as they sat rigid in their seats, hanging on his every breath and anxious twitch. The only respite was the brief breaks between paragraphs, when Menzies paused momentarily and stepped away from his mark on the floor. Kudos should go to Teegan Lee for her delicate and subtle lighting changes that help to refocus the action during these crucial shifts.

Director Eamon Flack has ably coaxed an immensely vulnerable performance from Menzies. However, with the despair so absolute from the get-go there were times when it seemed, to this reviewer at least, that there was nowhere further down to go. Perhaps too this minimalist production missed out on the opportunity to visually show the degradation of this character through breaking down the costuming. For at the close of the play Menzies’ neat white shirt and trousers have barely a crinkle. Of course the purists out there would surely say that’s piffle – it’s an inward journey we are watching and anything that obvious may have come across as distracting window dressing. And who knows? Maybe they are right, but still, it would have been fun to see excrement and muck flying into the front rows.

Fellow writer Harold Pinter once said of Samuel Beckett “the more he grinds my nose in the shit the more I am grateful to him”, and that, pretty much, sums up what an audience should ultimately expect to gain from seeing this production of The End.

Company B Belvoir presents
The End
by Samuel Beckett

Directed by Eamon Flack

Venue: Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre | 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 15 April – 9 May, 2010
Times: Tues @ 7.00pm, Wed – Sat @ 8.15pm, Sun @ 5.15pm.
Tickets: Full $42. Seniors (Excluding Fri/Sat Evenings), Concession $32
Bookings: 9699 3444 |

This review first appeared on Australian Stage April 2010