The Centre for International Theatre @ Higher Ground – Main Theatre
2:30pm, Sat 5 Mar 2011
When I saw Oleanna in 2009, I had two (possibly linked) complaints: I couldn’t believe Joanne Hartstone’s Carol could evolve the anger required over the course of the play. But, more significantly, I thought she struggled to deal with the high vertical spaces of Queens Theatre. But with the same cast performing the piece again within the tighter confines of Higher Ground, I decided it was worth checking out… if only to verify my hypothesis.
And I’m so glad I did.
Despite the less-than-optimal seating position (which still afforded catch-ups with too-rarely-seen family friends), it was immediately apparent that both Guy Masterson (reprising his role as John, the professor) and Hartstone were more comfortable with the stage. The first Act, with Carol’s quiet consternation rising into anger, is wonderfully modulated and nuanced; the second Act, with escalating tempers and verbal dissection, executes its powerful twist with ease.
But it’s the third Act that makes the ticket price feel too cheap; Carol’s principled (and blinkered) bile is brilliantly delivered by Hartstone, and when the blood sprays across the stage… well, I’m completely sold. The psychological battery that the two characters inflict on each other is palpable; the menace and panic and fear and power shifts are there for all to see.
Masterson plays John with the same wonderful restraint I’d seen two years earlier, but Hartstone… well, words can’t express how impressed I was. She was a revelation in this space – and I remain a little bit stunned by how much difference the performance space made. The progression of both characters was superbly managed.
I always knew that Oleanna was a confronting and challenging work; this instantiation was bloody brilliant.