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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!
His Greatness opens with a sleeping mound in a dishevelled bedroom, a played out Playwright (Matthew Marsh), the morning after the relentlessly repeated night before. His Assistant (Russell Bentley) soon enters and changes the mood with a brisk tidy up and allows a stream of disconcerting light to enter through the window at the end of the room. An ominous, indistinct discomfort settles on proceedings and will hover over the action throughout. In his foreword to the play writer Daniel warns his audience not to look for Tennessee Williams in a play which was merely inspired by his life, inevitably setting Williams up as an unlikely everyman figure since his drawl, profession, sexuality and circumstances are unmistakeably begged and borrowed for the substance of His Greatness and the character of The Playwright. In the same way as The Playwright will not be told the grass is not greener elsewhere but have to be shown the desolate plains, it will be hard for an audience to divorce the play from the circumstances which inspired it in spite of instruction.
Before long The Writer shifts away from comfort and stability with his trusty Assistant to accommodate fresh excitement and wantonness with The Young Man, (Toby Wharton) a flippant rent-boy hired as an escort for the ill fated premiere of his new, or rather, rehashed previously failed play. The Warren Beatty lookalike who The Assistant chooses to accompany his lover to the premiere which has taken them to Vancouver constitutes an idea of the past which the Writer is desperate to cling to and the Assistant is ostensibly happy to find for him. In reality, the cocaine fuelled haplessness accompanying such naïve young inhibition must be lubricated and relaxed for the ageing Writer by nasal spray and frequent lie-downs and the emotional effect on the Assistant paves the way for the inevitably hopeless close. The Young Man is a bemused opportunist and simultaneously a perfect catalyst for the impending rupture.
The actors all flourish most when forming a comical and complex ménage et trios and especially shine on their return from the Premiere when their drunken, dishevelled appearances and spirited conversation perfectly conjure up for the uninvited audience, the events and tone of the evening which has passed. The fondness between The Writer and The Assistant is beautifully portrayed, and when the Writer tells his hired company the story of meeting his assistant at a party and their consequential car park encounter, he is filled with fondness and sentimentality which is poignantly wrought by years of remembering and imaginative embellishing. They have settled into life, albeit unconventional life, together in the meantime.
His Greatness is a depiction of a tired broken man whose former prominence is a memory he cannot release and whose actual existence is portrayed in hard and fast decline. The anomaly between the then and now is hammered home by a crackly audio review played on the bedside wireless the morning after the ill-fated Vancouver performance in which the speaker (Samantha Coughlan) makes much of the opportunity to a see a not so great work by a very great man. His Greatness is not technically perfect, for example, the daylight in the window is a slightly irritating blue florescent concern, when a more delicately executed affair would have been more in keeping with the rest of the considered lighting and music. However the set and costumes by Jean-Marc Puissant are delightfully non-invasive and well-measured. Most impressively, Matthew Marsh saunters confidently in his role as The Playwright although he received the script less than a fortnight before the play opened.
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