Circa Theatre
April 29-May 7 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

I enjoyed The Intricate Art of Actually Caring so much in the Fringe that I was at something of a loss for words to describe it. I practically bullied people into going to see it. While the re-mounting of it at Downstage demonstrated that The Intricate Art is an excellent show, I felt something was missing from the original.

The story remains unchanged – following a set of upheavals in their young lives, Eli and Jack head to Jerusalem to visit Baxter’s grave. Jack hopes to recapture a sense of amazement or empathy with the world and generate material for poetry. Eli’s motives are more difficult to discern – he seems to just be along for the ride.

Despite some alterations, this is still an undeniably excellent script, well crafted by Eli Kent from beginning to end. The monologues at the end of the play have now been intercut with each other, with the result that the ending ‘builds’ far more successfully. The two great performances are delivered by actors Kent and Jack Shadbolt, although some nuances are lost in the larger space. Much of the confessional tone of the play is lost in Downstage, although Shadbolt does an admirable job of building rapport with the audience in his diary recordings.

What has changed is the space – gone is the intimacy of being in Eli’s bedroom, and the organic feel of the direction and design of the show. It feels like the direction and design has become a bit fussy in an attempt to use the space. The stage gets littered with objects from wardrobes and drawers – the symbolism of which is fairly obvious – the cast off debris of their childhood etc and although this adds to the themes of the play it felt too consciously arty, rather than intelligently inventive. I was glad that some elements from the original, such as the large pop/cult posters and the car headlamps had been retained.

This is still a superb play and one that I would urge everyone to see – it is just not as well suited to this space as the other two productions in Pick of the Fringe. On one had this is not their fault – they have no choice over the space in which Pick of the Fringe happens and can’t afford to miss a valuable opportunity to re-mount the show. However, the tricks that I had found delightful in the original incarnation of the show felt more artificial in a large theatre space. For a play that depends on audience connection, an intimate performance space seems to be required. Those who hadn’t seen the original probably have no idea what I am talking about – the show was a hit on opening night. But I preferred the original hands down. And as this is one of the best locally grown shows I have seen in a while, I care.

See also:
» The Intricate Art of Actually Caring (Reviewed by Helen Sims, 17/2/09)