Terminus by Mark O'Rowe,

It was one of those grey washed winter Sydney days when I made my way to see Terminus – I had heard the buzz around town and had flirted briefly with buying tickets. (Yes it’s something I do think twice about when it’s not a new local work.) But I decided to hold my horses and hope that perhaps a kindly person will throw a ticket at me. And luckily a ticket offer materialized within 24 hours, from a very generous actor I have had the pleasure of working with, Mr Stephen Wilkinson – we shared a pizza at the Young Alfred at customs house and scuttled to the Opera House in our coats, dodging the rain.

There’s little for me to say about the actual production – so I am going to talk around it.

There’s alot that has been said in Sydney about the show – the usual contenders (Web-loggers, print press reviewers) have showered it in praise. Facebook has been littered with status updates littered in “go see” exclamations, and of course the overseas press have already weighed in with their responses to the show on the Northern Hemisphere tour eg check out the Chicago Tribune here.

Interestingly, and most overwhelmingly the predominant comment from all has been about “the writing.”

I find this curious.

Surely all text-based theatre contains writing? Writing is, in press and facebook gossip often eclipsed by the acting (or in the case of celebrity fuelled productions, the actor.) Why is this show now so lauded for it’s “writing” above all else? Because that is what is clearly being showcased. The actors – unknown to us – tell a story. Three monologues which are interspersed and interwoven – the actors stand and deliver. They speak – there’s barely any movement – they don’t interact. They may sit down or stand up but they are largely rooted on the spot, speaking.

Directed by the writer, this choice to have direct address actors standing under a single spot light absolutely puts writing first. This is shocking. In fact, I would suggest utterly refreshing for Sydney audiences who are dealt a sturdy serve of rain/ash/glitter/something sprinkled from the ceiling in nearly every main stage show. The last time Sydney was offered something like this was in War of the Roses which had gold leaf falling on the stationary actors.

I applaud the bravery of the decision to be made to go simple. It is absolutely my aesthetic, it is what I believe (hard-core Poor-Theatre devotee as I appear to be!) If the play is relying on design to tell the story – something is wrong with the story. The play, the story must be absolutely compelling without the aid of design – the design is the highlighter of the text… there to illuminate not overwhelm. I believe that the actor is the most fascinating thing (or should be…) on any stage – as soon as we are distracted by revolves, ash, a live duck, a chandelier on stage – something of theatre is lost. This is what I think. And i am delighted that so many have relished the experience of Terminus as an example of pure story.

However, my experience was not as joyous – well, I fell asleep. Hypnotic lilting voices cured my appropriate insomnia (appropriate insomnia is what I call theatre going) -the dark enveloped me. I succumbed. I snoozed. In this instance I was appreciative of the writing – but once I realised that there would be limited movement – and I guessed the trajectory of the story – after about 30 minutes I slept and then awoke for the last 20 minutes of the play. So I had the book end version of the production. But effectively I missed it. I missed out…

The uncomfortable thing about realising I missed out is this – I don’t really feel destroyed by it. There are some shows I have missed where I have felt genuinely remorseful – not this one. Perhaps it is the feeling that reading the play would be just as effective? Terminus is a glorious piece of writing – absolutely. Clever, lyrical, rhythmic writing. An incredible story. But is this theatre? this production felt to me like it could easily be enjoyed on a mellowing Sunday afternoon as a radio play … or perhaps enjoyed as a holiday novel on a long train ride… yes, beautiful, satisfying writing – but is it theatre?

The act of an actor delivering it to an audience makes it a performance… but what type of a performance?

This is when I declare that perhaps it wasn’t really my thing – and also not something I should really write about as I did sleep through a large chunk of it. Though I appreciate the descriptions, the writerly-ness of the production, I do feel a desire to watch dramatic action – not just hear about the actions that had happened off stage, somewhere else, sometime ago… For me the writing lacked an immediacy that would keep me engaged and enlivened. Instead, the dream-like quality left me soft and snoozy, not really something I look for in my theatre going.