A BLANK CANVAS FOR THE NEW AGE OF RESTRICTED THEATRE.
After it’s long-anticipated return from COVID-19’s impact, a new wave of theatre emerges through an unexpected production of The Credeaux Canvas by Keith Bunin. Whilst an artist-centric play wasn’t my first thought when wondering how theatre post-COVID would be adapted and performed, this intriguing piece about the strive for success and ultimate dismay upon being given the unexpected, was quite the conundrum in terms of placement within the new age of adapted theatre.
The Credeaux Canvas was not a play I had heard about or was ever intrigued by, and so I truly went into this production as blindly. The takeaways I managed to form after the fact, were that my problems with the show were surrounding everything except for the performance by the actors collectively. Our characters are introduced wonderfully, set up in a way that diminishes the latter, and then ultimately flatlines. Yet this is more of a poignant discussion on writing than it is physical performance.
Our three main characters of Winston (Samson Alston), Amelia (Rachel Marley) and Jamie (Tom Kelly, otherwise played by Jasper Bruce) really set the tone for the performance, with each actor providing something unique and worthwhile. Samson’s portrayal of Winston was consistently quirky, and never failed to make the audience laugh and watch with anticipation as to what he would do next. Rachel provides a truly heartfelt performance, and was honestly the most personable and likeable of the three. With this being said however, the production truly got interesting when Tom lit up the stage. It was an absolute decimation in the best possible way, and one of the aspects that truly saved this absurdly written piece.
As I said before, the actors truly try their best to mask the written (and some directorial) imperfections of this piece, but most of them are hard to ignore. For starters, we walk into the theatre to see Winston painting away at a canvas, only for him to retreat to his “bed” (which physically resembles a bath) before the performance begins only for him to swiftly return in the beginning of act one. Slight inconsistencies like this really attribute to the collective absurdity of the direction and writing. Act One felt more like a flatline than a steady increase in regards to depth of story and pacing, and was more soap opera-esque than your typical stage production. Whilst the dialogue between Winston and Amelia slightly set up the conflict of Act Two, it was more like observing a conversation between two people than being fully engaging. Because of this, Act Two felt like a punch in the face. The quiet and calm aesthetic of Act One was completely bulldozed by this new entry, and it all began to feel like a blur of yelling and storylines that seemed to bloom and then finish out of thin air. The internal struggle of Amelia’s character lives and breathes through the betterment of her male counterparts, which felt not only disappointing but outdated and misplaced within the entire scope of the performance. However, Act Two brought in another stellar performance by side character Tess (Beth Daly), who made the beginning of Act Two raise in intrigue level colossally, only for it to be a straight drop once her character disappeared for good.
This jumbled pacing and storylines that came and went lead to a pretty perplexing narrative overall. The ending surprise that unfolded with Jamie’s character really shocked me, and not in a satisfied way. I left the theatre with no real emotional takeaway, and was sort of indifferent about this piece as a whole. Was this just a boring production about a painting? I was left with a real conundrum, as I was thinking whether or not this piece’s intention was to keep it true to the original or to separate itself completely. The Credeaux Canvas is set in New York City, yet American culture and even the city itself has no real impact on the story or the people within it -if anything you could’ve adapted the original script and set this piece in an Australian city and avoided the accents that were inconsistent but fully committed to.
What I can further commend though is the brave and raw performance Samson and Rachel produced in regards to the nude and emotionally bearing scenes. It is hard to imagine such an up and coming group of actors would be willing to bear it all for a role they truly believed in, these scenes were done with poise and compassion and were taken seriously by the actors. Whilst I believe this isn’t an integral part of the story as a lot of the briefs make it out to be, special mentions are in order when they are well and truly deserved.
The Credeaux Canvas might not have pushed the advocacy for the need for theatre post-restrictions as it had intended to, but it did what it could with the tribulations it set to face. I applaud the directors for managing to take a production that should’ve been interactive, and manufacture it in a way that was viable on stage with social distancing in mind -even though this was possibly negated with the actors-. From rehearsing over Zoom to an in-person performance, it might not have translated as whole as it would’ve liked to, but was most definitely saved through the delivery by the actors. It is not a performance I am willing to see again in a heartbeat, but it is still one to applaud for being the first production post-restrictions, and for being performed in such a minimal space with a fraction of a regular audience.