STOP START
Dawson Nichols @ Bakehouse Theatre – Main Stage
9:00pm, Sat 14 Feb 2015
It was great to see Dawson Nichols return to Adelaide again this year… clearly, his return to Adelaide after fourteen years had proven to be a success (or at least self-sufficient), and may have been responsible for the return of TJ Dawe, too.
So that’s nice.
And, once again, the house is pretty full for this performance. And, once again, it appears to be a typical Dawson Nichols production: One man. One chair. Intensely lyrical monologue that twists and turns as multiple threads snake around each other. Occasional subtle lighting variations.
But there’s a relative lack of characters in STOP START. In fact, this performance only really relies on two (with a third – I think – making a relatively short-but-significant appearance).
Which, if you’ve seen Nichols’ previous plays, is a bit of a departure from the dozens he usually presents to the audience.
The fact that the two characters are quite different – and that one is currently being embalmed – creates an intriguing bedrock for the play. Harmond appears to be the more intellectual of the two, musing deeply about the mythical origins of coffee, interspersed with marketing spiels, childhood memories, and unanswered queries to the unseen doctor embalming him. The physicality of Harmond is divine: the nervous looks to the embalmer, the insertions of needles into his arms to drain his fluids, the lolling as he recounts Buddhist and Aztec myths.
Harmond’s brother, Chaz, is a less refined character. A nervous collection of poor choices, he waits and watches over Harmond’s transition from flesh-and-blood to just-flesh. The two characters don’t talk, as such, but between them (and their transitions) they tell a story of common characters – belle Nancy, son/nephew Orion – that weaves into the traditional lore that Harmond recounts. The contrast is engaging: refined spirit myths versus human destructive excesses.
Nichols’ transitions between characters, forever a hallmark of his performances, are more drawn-out and elaborate here, as compared to his usual flitting of personae: more a function of lyricism in the writing than physical nudges in the delivery (though they provide ample support). And the play itself is a gorgeous tome of text, with a denouement that is both unexpected and garishly neat; the script is a joy to read.
Whilst STOP START may lack some of the immediate wow-factors of Dawson Nichols’ other performances, it proved to be a compelling piece of theatre. The script is absolutely worth buying, if only to revel in its nuances after-the-fact, but Nichols’ performance (and stark direction) still make this a theatrical experience not to be missed.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) February 14, 2015