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Saturday, September 23, 2017


(Craig Morris)

Agony is excellent with Morris putting in his usual definitive performance. (Review by Caroline Smart)

It’s always a challenge to choose productions at the Hilton Festival given an impressive list to choose from over the short two-day period. However, if Craig Morris is on the cast list, then it’s a dead cert for me. And if it’s a one-man show, even better!

Morris appeared in a production conceived by Greg Melvill-Smith and Douglas Thistlewhite and written by Iain Paton.

Agony (In Loving Memory of Greg Melvill-Smith), is about a man called Malcolm Leask who lives in a flat with a number of cats including Testa (who won’t eat) and Pinkerton (who leaves dead lizards as a gift for him). The effective puppet design is by Jenni-lee Crewe.

Wearing a Harlequin jacket, he informs his cats, which are represented by a strip of fake fur, a stuffed spangled pouch and a stuffed children’s toy, that it’s “Curtain Up at 8”. As the play progresses, he gives the countdown calls – half-hour call, 15 minutes etc.

The door is haphazardly boarded up with strips of wood and the place is a chaotic mess of newspapers, tennis racquets, empty margarine tubs and an old record player. He has something important to do and has created a safe haven in which to do it.

He has memories of his volatile father who he saw having sex with a tennis player. Malcolm himself was a good player, qualifying for a singles championship.

Opera, though, holds painful memories for Malcolm. Both parents were in opera and his mother sang the title role in Madama Butterfly and was lauded for her performance although his father jealously said she wasn’t as good as all that.

Then there are his recollections of working backstage at the opera house and the memory of advances from the lead tenor who commanded him into his dressing room bluffing that he needed help dressing but had more sexual ideas in mind. This was brilliantly handled without being specific as was a scene where he rips up pieces of newspaper and stuffs them around his body, virtually securing every orifice.

Then it’s “Beginners Call” and Malcolm moves to his own finale.

Agony is excellent with Morris putting in his usual definitive performance. He justifiably won a prestigious Standard Bank Ovation Award at the 2017 National Arts Festival. Director Megan Willson skilfully handles the themes of abuse, rape and male identity. Catch it if it comes to a theatre near you. – Caroline Smart