The Pub with No Plot: Review of Genesian Theatre’s Hotel Sorrento
There is a very interesting story in Hotel Sorrento (1990) but unfortunately it isn’t the story Hannie Rayson sets out to tell. Instead Rayson’s play follows three estranged sisters, who, have reunited for the first time in ten years, at their old family home in the sleepy, seaside town of Sorrento. Hilary stayed at home following the death of her husband to raise her son, Troy and care for her aging father, Wal. Pippa moved to New York and reportedly earns more money than Rupert Murdoch, while third sister Meg went to London where she wrote a Booker Prize nominated novel, Melancholy. Although she claims it to be fiction, the others instantly recognize it as a thinly veiled story of their lives.
The play spends a great deal of time ruminating on the role of art and the willingness of Australians to accept it; it also talks of gender roles and the Australian identity. It makes the play seem a bit pretentious, ironic as one of the characters is accused of just this. However, the real story is hardly explored in the text. It takes nearly an hour and a half before we discover that Meg was in love with Hilary’s husband, although he was actually having an affair with Pippa. Unfortunately the details of this affair (the single most interesting plot point) are never explored: we don’t learn how or why it happened, we never learn Pippa’s side of the story, nor do we learn how much Hilary knows. We can make the assumption that it is the details of this affair that make up the contents of Meg’s novel, but this is never addressed either. Likewise are other themes hinted at without ever being fleshed out: for instance, what are the dangers of sharing a memory when competing versions exist? What can happen when our perceptions of the past are challenged? Is truth better than illusion? Further, the significance of loyalty is frequently evoked, but more focus is laid on loyalty to one’s country, which is rather mundane compared with loyalty towards family, or a memory (two ideas again evoked but not explored). Maybe repression is the point: to go on pretending everything is fine when it’s anything but; if so, even this is under developed.
Together, Sarah Purdue (Hilary), Melanie Robinson (Meg) and Gemma Munro (Pippa) were credible as sisters. Individually however, their characters appeared incomplete. Purdue would (at times) awkwardly handle Rayson’s dialogue and the choice to aggressively deliver even the most mundane of lines caricatured her character’s strength. Nevertheless, she produced some good moments when Hilary let slip some of her emotional repression. Robinson and Munro were only slightly more successful in handling the script with Robinson making a better fist of the outsider role. Martin Bell’s thoroughly English Edwin was pitched well; his style never intruded upon the action whilst effectively conveying the unconsciously patronising attitude of the Pom. Rob White’s Dick felt somewhat petulant, missing the intellectual spark that made the character attractive. However White encapsulates the ocker nature of Dick, certainly amusing next to Bell’s Edwin. Lynn Turnbull Rose’s Marge was solid, if not mildly overdone. Barry Moray as Wal and Oliver Bear as Troy enjoyed their time on stage and served their purpose within the script.
Generally, the performances stagnated to varying degrees, partly a directorial problem, and partly a problem of lines. There were several trips that stunted the dialogue’s flow. There were also some staging problems – the critical dinner scene was staged with the cast around a table, with several backs to the audience. This is theatre 101. Once again however, diction and pacing was solid across the board.
Hotel Sorrento has a lot of great ideas circulating but the final piece for performance is not the narrative it promises or wishes to be. Unfortunately a production such as this is doomed from the start, as the story just isn’t good enough to work with.
Hotel Sorrento is playing at the Genesian Theatre, Friday, Saturday and Sunday matinees until the 22nd of February. For more details see: http://www.genesiantheatre.com.au/