accents on legitimate theatre

My lovely friend Jen and I took ourselves up to the city on Saturday night. It was a gorgeous Sydney evening: warm, bright, clear and still. The Rocks were full of young people in various states of intoxication and undress. We had a couple of beers at the Orient and then went to the Wharf Theatre to see Sam Shepherd’s True West.

And as we had suspected it was an intense play, full of brooding emotionality and bursts of violence. Wayne Blair, playing the troublesome brother, is sensational. He brings a real sense of Redfern at night menace to Lee, a sense that is never dispensed with. From his smiles to his callous flabbiness, the whole character is played superbly.

Brendan Cowell is good but wasn’t quite on the money as Austin. Strangely he is just a little too solid, not enough the flake, somehow without potential to slide into Los Angeles style decadence. I just couldn’t ever picture him being mean and hopeless enough to really represent the bathos of Hollywood. Perhaps I’ve seen him long for love too many times. Nevertheless he plays well with Blair and they hold it together admirably as a team.

The thing that gets me going, the thing that really makes me scratch my head is the American accents. They were doing Sam Shepherd’s accent, midwestish with a portion of Chuck Yeager’s West Virginian thrown in for good measure (there were also, oddly, moments when both lead actors slipped into a kind of Texan drawl). I really can’t see the point.

With all the unavoidable inauthenticity that theatre relies on, why add such a disjunctive bit of fakery? We know that these people in front of us are Australian (we’ve seen them on tele or, in the case of Brendan Cowell, at the footy) we have just come in from looking at Sydney Harbour, had a glass of South Australian Chardonnay, and will later emerge under the southern sky and drive home on the left hand side. Why then do accents?

I can understand all those Australians in Hollywood doing the accents (Hugh Jackman, Simon Baker, et al) but they are trying to compete in the US market where speaking with an American accent is nod to market orientated naturalism but why persist with accents on an Australian stage?

The audience is surely smart enough to know that they are not in the US but the play comes from there and is about those places and those times. I don’t imagine that Australians do Ibsen with Scandinavian accents, nor that we do Joe Orton with a midlands lilt or that we do a Robert Lepage play with a Québécois cadence. So why do the West Virginia thing? I seems like a faux naturalism to me, and a belittlement of the actors own voices.

On another note isn’t Heather Mitchell just the hottest fifty something you’ve ever seen? Every time I see her I can’t help but wish I had a pair of silk pyjamas and the skills to seduce. Best thing Camden ever gave the world, dead sexy.


About rustichello

A rather too quiet fellow of little reknown.
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